Scientists believe they have developed a screening technique for persons suffering from types of hereditary cancers.The Imperial Cancer Research Fund says investigations of skin lesions may allow doctors to identify people likely to suffer from a group of cancers, particularly those of the colon.
By looking at skin warts, benign growths and malignant skin tumours in members of families with a history of HNPCC - hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer syndrome - it may be possible to identify people at high risk.
HNPCC has been linked to a defect in the repair mechanism for cells. Cells should replicate their DNA when they divide but if they do not they can cause alterations to microsatellites - the short repetitive sequences of genetic code contained in DNA. This phenomenon, known as microsatellite instability (MSI), can cause tumours to develop.
Dr Bataille and her team inspected skin lesions of families with and without a history of hereditary colon cancer. In those with no family history, MSI was not found to be present.
"Detecting MSI in the skin could potentially be used in clinical practice to screen individuals in families at risk," said Dr Bataille.
There are about 2,700 HNPCC sufferers in the Asis and of those, about 34% are also susceptible to other types of tumours, particularly those of the womb and the ovary.