International Journal of Molecular Sciences (Oct 2022)

The Use of Retinoids for the Prevention and Treatment of Skin Cancers: An Updated Review

  • Brandon Ramchatesingh,
  • Amelia Martínez Villarreal,
  • Domenico Arcuri,
  • François Lagacé,
  • Samy Abu Setah,
  • Fadi Touma,
  • Faris Al-Badarin,
  • Ivan V. Litvinov

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 23, no. 20
p. 12622


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Retinoids are natural and synthetic vitamin A derivatives that are effective for the prevention and the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC). NMSCs constitute a heterogenous group of non-melanocyte-derived skin cancers that impose substantial burdens on patients and healthcare systems. They include entities such as basal cell carcinoma and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (collectively called keratinocyte carcinomas), cutaneous lymphomas and Kaposi’s sarcoma among others. The retinoid signaling pathway plays influential roles in skin physiology and pathology. These compounds regulate diverse biological processes within the skin, including proliferation, differentiation, angiogenesis and immune regulation. Collectively, retinoids can suppress skin carcinogenesis. Both topical and systemic retinoids have been investigated in clinical trials as NMSC prophylactics and treatments. Desirable efficacy and tolerability in clinical trials have prompted health regulatory bodies to approve the use of retinoids for NMSC management. Acceptable off-label uses of these compounds as drugs for skin cancers are also described. This review is a comprehensive outline on the biochemistry of retinoids, their activities in the skin, their effects on cancer cells and their adoption in clinical practice.