According to recent finding, researchers have identified a gene that causes benign moles on the skin to become cancerous. This could allow doctors to treat more effectively patients with early stages of melanoma.
A team of scientists lead by Dr. Rhoda Alani of Johns Hopkins University, found a gene known as Id1 that causes cancer cells to grow in melanoma. Id1 blocks a tumor suppressor gene that ordinarily keeps precancerous moles from progressing to melanoma or skin cancer. The study found that high levels of the Id1 protein were expressed only in the first stages of melanoma when the disease lies on the surface of skin.
According to the American Cancer Society, patients who have melanoma that has not spread below the skin have a survival rate of 97 percent beyond five years. But as the tumor begins to grow, the survival rate falls to 50 percent if it has reached the lymph nodes below the skin and 20 percent if it has spread to other organs in the body. On a larger scale, this will be very useful in the early diagnosis and cure of the disease.
According to researchers a person's risk of melanoma is influenced by:
* family history
* exposure to the sun
* number of moles
*sensitivity of the skin
Researchers studied Id1 protein levels in 21 human tissue samples including precancerous moles and various stages of melanoma. Accorind to Journal, diagnostic tools could be designed to monitor Id1 because it is only activated in early stages of melanoma, and not precancerous moles or later stages of the disease.
Id1 also may cause various mutations to occur in the cancer cells, making the suppressor gene damaged beyond repair. As the cancer grows, researchers reason, Id1 levels decrease because it is no longer needed to block the suppressor gene.
According to Alani a larger study of several hundred patients will be conducted in order to verify the Id1 gene's role in melanoma before designing a method to test for it. This is important because the diagnosis of melanoma is very difficult and treatment varies based on the degree to which it has progressed. Physicians generally have a difficult time determining if a mole is cancerous. She feels that by developing a test to monitor for the presence of Id1, doctors will be able to better treat patients with the disease.
She said that Melanoma tumors spread very quickly, and the best treatment is to surgically remove the cancer because patients have not responded well to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.