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.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
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