A new study carried out by the Institute of Cancer Research and published in the Cancer Research journal shows that a genetic mutation found in some forms of malignant melanoma can initiate the development of the deadliest form of skin cancer. The KRAS gene is mutated in approximately two per cent of malignant melanomas, and is the study is the first of its kind to show that damage to this gene can be the first in a process of events that trigger malignant melanoma.
Professor Richard Marais, lead author of the study reports, “We know that the main cause of skin cancer is damage driven by the UV rays in sunlight, and we are now building up a picture of the key genes involved in this disease. We have already discovered that mutations in another gene, BRAF, could drive up to half of melanomas, and now we’ve established that damage to the KRAS gene can also be the first step in malignant melanoma development.”
Melanoma is difficult to treat once it has spread to other organs. The results from the study are helping researchers learn how different types of genetic events can cause skin cancer to develop, and also understand what triggers the disease so that scientists can find better treatments. In another related study, researchers found that genetic mutations ma y be necessary to promote cancer growth. Researchers are trying to identify these other changes so that they can develop more effective therapeutic approaches for treating early signs of skin cancer and preventing the formation of melanoma.
Researchers of this study and dermatologists advise patients to avoid excessive use of tanning beds and too much sun exposure, which can both be responsible for triggering skin cancer and melanoma growth. Melanoma was the cause of 8,650 deaths in the United States in 2009 alone, and approximately 68,720 new cases were reported that same year.