Putting Melanoma Into Remission

July 28, 2008 9:42:55 AM PDT
According to the Mayo Clinic, melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It develops in the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanoma can also form in your eyes and in internal organs, like your intestines. The exact cause of all melanomas isn't known, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds greatly increases your risk of developing melanoma. Avoiding excessive sun exposure can prevent many melanomas and making sure you know the warning signs of skin cancer can help ensure that cancerous changes are detected and treated before they have a chance to spread. Melanoma can be successfully treated if you catch it early. SPOTTING MELANOMA: There is a simple acronym that can help patients identify dangerous moles and skin irregularities ... the ABC's of skin cancer:

  • A -- Asymmetry: Asymmetry can be assessed by comparing one half of the growth to the other half to determine if the halves are equal in size. Unequal or asymmetric moles are suspicious.

  • B -- Border: If the mole's border is irregular, notched, scalloped, or indistinct, it is more likely to be cancerous (or precancerous) and is thus suspicious.

  • C -- Color: Variation of color within a mole is a suspicious finding. Different shades of browns, blues, reds, whites, and blacks are all concerning.

  • D -- Diameter: Any mole that has a diameter larger than a pencil's eraser in size should be considered suspicious.

  • E -- Elevation: If a mole is elevated, or raised from of the skin, it should be considered suspicious.

    HIDDEN MELANOMA: Melanomas do not only occur on highly visible skin. They may also arise in the lining the nose, mouth, female genitalia, anus, urinary tract and esophagus. This type of cancer is associated with the KIT gene. Researchers discovered several different kinds of DNA abnormalities can occur on the gene, leading to different kinds of acral and mucosal melanomas -- both highly malignant forms of skin cancer. While these melanomas are relatively rare, they tend to be well advanced when diagnosed, probably because the mucosal tissues are usually out of sight and infrequently self-examined or impossible to examine easily. Acral melanomas can be found on the palms of hands, the soles of feet and under nails while mucosal melanomas are found in the mucous membranes of the body.

    A drug used to treat other types of cancer called Gleevec (imatinib mesylate) works by going in and essentially shutting off the KIT gene and specific proteins in cancer cells that cause those cells to grow and multiply. Because Gleevec works directly with the gene, it has successfully treated mucosal and acral melanoma in preliminary trials. An understanding of the KIT gene and how it works could lead to treatment breakthroughs for other types of more common melanomas.


    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute




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