Perillyl alcohol (PEOH), found naturally in mint and citrus fruits and also used as a food additive, is a powerful inhibitor of both UVB-induced non-melanoma and melanoma, reported researchers this week.
The compound has already been shown to inhibit the growth of many cancers and pre-cancerous lesions either by helping to fight cancer-causing chemicals or by interfering with signals that cause rapid cell division.
Speaking at the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research meeting in the US this week, Dr Janine Einspahr from the Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson, said: "Our research has documented that perillyl alcohol is a potent in vivo inhibitor of both UVB-induced non-melanoma and melanoma in a transgenic animal model."
"We are confident that further research will garner results that support these findings in human models," she added.
Phase I and Phase II studies of topically-administered perillyl alcohol are currently underway at the Arizona Cancer Center.
In the study, human keratinocytes (skin cells) were treated for 24 hours with 0.43 millimolars of PEOH, followed by exposure to 250 millijoules per cm2 of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB). Compared to untreated cells, expression of 5,533 genes was altered more than two-fold with UVB, and 5,837 genes with UVB and PEOH.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US, with more than 1.3 million new cases expected in 2003. It is also increasing in Europe and among people under 35, it is the third most common cancer in women and fifth most common in men.