Eczema sufferers may have less chance of developing skin cancer, according to new research.

A study conducted by scientists at King's College London found the immune response triggered by eczema could stop tumours forming by shedding potentially cancerous cells.

Genetically engineered mice lacking three skin proteins – known as "knock-out" mice – were used to replicate some of the skin defects found in eczema sufferers.

Cancer-causing chemicals were tested on normal mice and the knock-out mice. Researchers found the number of benign tumours per mouse was six times lower in knock-out mice. 

The new study, published in eLife suggests both types of mice were equally susceptible to getting cancer-causing mutations, but an exaggerated inflammatory reaction in knock-out mice led to enhanced shedding of potentially cancerous cells from the skin.

Professor Fiona Watt, director of the centre for stem cells and regenerative medicine at King's College London, said: "We are excited by our findings as they establish a clear link between cancer susceptibility and an allergic skin condition in our experimental model.

"They also support the view that modifying the body's immune system is an important strategy in treating cancer.

"I hope our study provides some small consolation to eczema sufferers - that this uncomfortable skin condition may actually be beneficial in some circumstances."