Chapel Hill, N.C. — For those who love the sun, summer is the best season of the year. It's also a time of increased risk for developing skin cancer. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, will account for more than 75,000 cases this year alone.
Researchers looking for better treatment options at UNC Hospitals recently identified a genetic characteristic of the most lethal type of melanoma, a discovery that could lead to a new treatment for patients with metastatic forms of the cancer.
"We have made progress with respect to how we treat patients and whether the patients with metastatic cancer live longer," UNC oncologist Dr. Stergios Moschos said.
Unlike other skin cancers, melanoma grows deeper into the skin and spreads quickly. Up to 10 percent of cases don't respond to current therapies.
In mouse studies, UNC researchers believe they've identified a key genetic marker in the process of treating metastatic patients. When a gene called LKB1 is deactivated, it causes melanoma cells to become highly metastatic.
"Metastatsis is when the tumor leaves the primary site, so the cells leave the skin and go to other organs like the brain or lung," Ned Sharpless, a professor at UNC, said.
Sharpless said LKB1, which is an enzyme present in melanomas and lung cancers, could be targeted by drugs.
"We think if we could interrupt that process and understand why melanoma metastazies and prevent it from metastasizing, it could be very significant," he said.