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Uranium Exposure Linked To Skin Cancer

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Uranium Exposure Linked To Skin Cancer

Uranium Exposure Linked To Skin Cancer

Northern Arizona University researchers have linked uranium exposure to skin cancer.

For the first time Northern Arizona University researchers have linked uranium exposure to skin cancer. And one sub-population is especially at risk.

NAU biochemistry professor Diane Stearns said her team found once uranium was present in the skin, exposure to sunlight could be chemically toxic and lead to cancerous lesions. It’s a bigger threat for people with what’s called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, or XP, a disease that causes extreme sensitivity to sunlight.

“XP is a genetic disease where there are deficiencies in different steps of DNA repair and it makes a person more susceptible to skin cancer,” Stearns said. “There is a sub-population of Navajo who have XP.”

Turns out there’s a higher number of Navajo people with XP than the general population. The 2012 documentary Sun Kissed cites the incidence of XP in the general population as one-in-one-million. Cases increase to one-in-30,000 in the Navajo population.

And many Navajo people have been exposed to extracted uranium from the reservation’s abandoned mines.

Laurel Morales was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2011 to 2020.