A employee controls the production of liquorice at the HARIBO candy factory on January 24, 2013 in Bonn, western Germany.

London - Liquorice could hold the key to beating the most lethal form of skin cancer, scientists have discovered.

Researchers identified a compound in liquorice root that slowed the growth of cancer cells.

Now they hope the substance can be developed into a drug to combat malignant melanoma.

Previous studies found another anti-cancer chemical in liquorice called glycyrrhizin. But attempts to turn it into a medicine were hampered because long-term consumption of glycyrrhizin can cause high blood pressure and swelling on the brain.

Experts at the University of Minnesota in the US have now found another ingredient – Isoangustone A – which has the same benefits without the dangerous side effects.

Malignant melanoma kills around 1,700 people a year in the UK and is the third most common cancer in people aged 15-39.

Over-exposure to the sun’s rays is the biggest cause and since the mid-1990s there has been a 24 percent increase in cases.

Some evidence suggests even a few bouts of sunburn in childhood can trigger cellular changes that lead to skin cancer later in life. Cancerous mole cells start to divide, eventually spreading through the body.

The research, published in journal Cancer Prevention Research, found Isoangustone A slowed the rate at which melanoma cells reproduce, partly by blocking certain proteins needed for them to flourish.

When the extract was given to mice with skin cancer, it had the same effect of suppressing growth of tumours. - Daily Mail