Scientists from the University of Miami and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Miami reported in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology that there is a genetically distinct group inclined to develop skin cancer.

Scientists have known for some time that too much sun can cause skin cancer, but the research team concluded a genetic predisposition in tandem with overexposure also may play a role.Dr. Howard Koh, associate professor of dermatology and medicine and public health at Boston University, was not familiar with the study but noted the importance of such research.

"Skin cancer is the No. 1 cancer in the United States, estimated at up to 600,000 cases a year," Koh said. "Non-melanoma skin cancer rarely kills a person, but its impact on quality of life and the morbidity of it is really considerable."

Dr. J. Richard Taylor and colleagues studied people using ultraviolet light exposure and a drug to test the body's immune response. Neither the drug nor short bursts of ultraviolet light exposure were harmful to study participants, he said.

Study subjects who never had skin cancer developed a rash that showed they had the immune system cells needed to fight a cancer-causing assault. None of the volunteers who previously had cancer developed the rash, Taylor said.