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Faulty Gene Responsible for Skin Cancer Spread

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Scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) showed that in both human cancer cells and mice, a gene called BRAF, which is damaged in 50 percent of cases of skin cancer, triggers a cell signaling pathway that blocks instructions from a second gene called PDE5A.

PDE5A is a brake that stops cell movement in healthy cells, but in cancer cells, BRAF turns this brake off, allowing the spread of cancer to other areas of the body, such as the lungs.

Lead study author Professor Richard Marais said, “This research further puts the focus on BRAF as an important target for therapy to prevent the spread of skin cancer.

“Our findings support recent studies into experimental BRAF-targeting drugs, which are showing great promise in patients with melanoma cells with a damaged BRAF gene, but not in patients whose melanomas do not have this alteration. This highlights the importance of personalizing medicine to achieve effective treatments for cancer.”

Dr. Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information at Cancer Research UK, said, “These new findings reveal more of the complex web of signals that drive the development of tumors that have the ability to grow, survive and spread to new locations.”

The estimated number of cases of melanoma in the U.S. for 2010 was 68,130, and they resulted in 8,700 deaths. The UK figures for malignant melanoma in 2007 were 10,670 cases, resulting in over 2,000 deaths.

It is growing in incidence and deaths in people over age 65 have tripled in the last 30 years.

Symptoms of skin cancer include:

Moles that get bigger
Moles that change shape or color
Moles that are itchy or painful
Moles that are bleeding or inflamed or crusted over

If you have any moles that you have noticed have changed or are causing you discomfort, please see a doctor.

Sources: Arozarena, I., et al. Oncogenic BRAF induces melanoma cell invasion by downregulating the cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase PDE5A (2011) Cancer Cell
National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov
Cancer Research UK.

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/.

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