Researchers from King's College London have found that the symptoms of skin defects could protect against skin cancer.
Shedding potentially cancerous cells during eczema could help prevent tumours from forming on the skin, the scientists claim.
The study, published in the journal eLife, was conducted using mice which had been genetically engineered to lack three skin barrier proteins, replicating the effects of eczema.
The effects of two carcinogenic chemicals were compared in normal mice and mice with the barrier effect. Mice with eczema symptoms were six times less likely to develop benign tumours than normal mice.
Mice with eczema symptoms showed an exaggerated inflammatory reaction which led to enhanced shedding of potentially cancerous cells from the skin. This cancer-protective mechanism bears similarities to that which protects skin from environmental assaults such as bacteria.
Dr Mike Turner, King's College head of infection and immunobiology said: "Skin cancer is on the rise in many countries and any insight into the body’s ability to prevent tumour formation is valuable in the fight against this form of cancer.
"These findings that eczema can protect individuals from skin cancer support theories linking allergies to cancer prevention and open up new avenues for exploration whilst providing some (small) comfort for those suffering from eczema."
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK, and is available to view on the eLife website for free.