Molecular Fingerprint Links Inflammation Treatment to Skin Cancer

Azathioprine is a drug used in the treatment of a variety of conditions. Inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and vasculitis may all include azathioprine as part of their respective therapies. It is also used after organ transplants to prevent rejection. Recent research, however, suggests that the same drug may be a factor in the development of skin cancer. Scientists from the University of Dundee, and the Wellcome Sanger Institute see a strong connection between azathioprine and types of mutations indicating certain cancers. Keep reading to learn more, or follow the original story here for more information.

Studying Sensitivity

Some concerns over azathioprine already existed. Like almost any medication there are side effects of its use. One risk researchers observed was an increase in skin sensitivity to sun. Azathioprine increases the skin’s photosensitivity to UVA light. This, in turn, could increases an individual’s risk of skin cancer. Researchers already advised physicians to make this known. Doctors should advocate for year-round sun protection for any patient on azathioprine. Keeping a close eye on the skin’s general condition, and potentially removing lesions are also recommended practice.

The new research on azathioprine does not, however, suggest azathioprine be removed form treatment plans. Drug therapies often involve some level of risk. The question is how great the risk is against the reward. When treating potentially life-threatening conditions this equation is difficult.

A Molecular Fingerprint

Cancer causes are often difficult to pin down. Different cancer-causing agents do, however, leave a sort of calling card. Depending on the carcinogen instigating cancer development, a different molecular fingerprint is left behind. By understanding these types of details researchers may be able to better understand cancer development and treatment.

The main concern then with azathioprine is not the sun sensitivity it causes but its potential to be involved in cancer development. Indeed, researchers seem to have identified a new molecular fingerprint called Signature 32. In studying specific skin cancers across a number of patients, researchers observed that the mutational signature matched the usage of azathioprine. The initial study group is too small to say for sure but there does seem to be a correlation between azathioprine and the development of some skin cancers. Further research using larger experimental groups will be necessary to confirm any sort of theories.


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