Hard skin on feet and hands linked to oesophagus cancer

05 February 2017

For those who are blighted with thick, hard skin on the soles of their feet, you will know the struggle is real when it comes to summer sandals.

But hard skin sufferers shouldn’t dismiss the unsightly condition as just an aesthetic issue; scientists now say it could also be a symptom of cancer of the oesophagus.

A team from Queen Mary University of London found that an inherited form of oesophageal cancer, or cancer of the gullet, called Tylosis causes thickening of the palms as well as the soles. The thick skin can be so severe that in some cases sufferers are forced to shave it off with razors.

It’s calculated that cancer of the oesophagus affects more than 8,000 people in the UK each year, with 7,790 reported deaths from the disease in 2014. Other symptoms include difficulty and pain when swallowing, weight loss, food coming back up before reaching the stomach, indigestion and heartburn that doesn’t go away and a cough.

To get their results, the team looked at mice with the gene iRHOM2, which causes the disease, and found they had abnormally thin paw skin. However humans with it had thickened skin on their hands and feet and also develop the cancer. iRHOM2 controls skin component keratin, and plays a vital role in controlling the thickness of skin on the palms and soles.

Results have been Nature Communications, with the scientists behind the study hoping their findings could lead to a new target in the treatment of oesophagus cancer. They’re also anticipating fresh insights into skin conditions, including psoriasis and skin cancer.

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