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Health & Medicine for Senior Citizens

Discovery of Biomarker for Deadly Melanoma Skin Cancer Offers New Hope

Researchers were able to reverse melanoma growth in pre-clinical studies

Sept. 13, 2012 – Researchers claim discovery of a novel opportunity for melanoma skin cancer diagnostics, treatment and prevention. Melanoma is the most dangerous of skin cancers, the leading cause of death from skin cancer and is increasing faster than any other cancer. It most often strikes older people.

A new biomarker for the lethal disease has been discovered by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH). Teams led by Yujiang Geno Shi, PhD, from BWH's Department of Medicine, and George F. Murphy, MD, from BWH's Department of Pathology made the discovery.

 

News Update

 
 

How Melanoma Skin Cancer Can Resist Chemotherapy is Discovered

Study results suggest new approach to treating most deadly skin cancer - Sept. 17, 2012

 
 

Related Archive Stories

 
 

Melanoma Skin Cancer May Be More Treatable with New Discovery

Average age of melanoma diagnosis is 61; over 9,000 expected to die in 2012 - more about this skin cancer below news report - Aug. 15, 2012

Secret to Melanoma Cancer’s Resistance to Treatment Exposed - Hope for Seniors

After melanoma removed from head...Researchers say they have found why treatment is difficult and may have answer for turning this around

July 23, 2012

Aspirin, Painkillers Ward Off Skin Cancer; Second Study Lets Immune System Stop Melanoma

NSAIDs decreased risk for squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma; advanced melanoma patients see scientist lower cancer barrier to allow immune system attack - May 29, 2012

Early Success in Curing Melanoma in Mice Spurs Mayo Vaccine Development

Success with melanoma adds to Mayo Clinic's growing portfolio of experimental cancer vaccines - March 19, 2012


Links to more archived news reports below.
 
 

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Their study will be published on September 14, 2012 in Cell.

"Dr. Shi and colleagues have discovered an exciting new connection between the loss of a specific chemical mark in the genome and the development of melanoma," said Anthony Carter, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which mainly funded the research.

"This work is a prime example of how basic research on mechanisms of epigenetic regulation can yield clinically significant insights that hold great promise for diagnosing and treating cancer."

The researchers found that certain biochemical elements in the DNA of normal pigment-producing skin cells and benign mole cells are absent in melanoma cells. Loss of these methyl groups - known as 5-hmC - in skin cells serves as a key indicator for malignant melanoma. Loss corresponded to more advanced stages of melanoma as well as clinical outcome.

Strikingly, researchers were able to reverse melanoma growth in pre-clinical studies. When the researchers introduced enzymes responsible for 5-hmC formation to melanoma cells lacking the biochemical element, they saw that the cells stopped growing.

"It is difficult to repair the mutations in the actual DNA sequence that are believed to cause cancer," said Christine Lian, MD, a physician scientist in the Department of Pathology at BWH and one of the lead authors.

Do You Have Melanoma?

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and senior citizens are the usual victims. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color or feel of a mole. Most melanomas have a black or black-blue area. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal or "ugly looking."

Thinking of "ABCD" can help you remember what to watch for:

   Asymmetry - the shape of one half does not match the other

   Border - the edges are ragged, blurred or irregular

   Color - the color in uneven and may include shades of black, brown and tan

   Diameter - there is a change in size, usually an increase

Melanoma can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated early. If melanoma is not removed in its early stages, cancer cells may grow downward from the skin surface and invade healthy tissue. If it spreads to other parts of the body it can be difficult to control.

MedlinePlus

"So having discovered that we can reverse tumor cell growth by potentially repairing a biochemical defect that exists—not within the sequence—but just outside of it on the DNA structure, provides a promising new melanoma treatment approach for the medical community to explore."

Because cancer is traditionally regarded as a genetic disease involving permanent defects that directly affects the DNA sequence, this new finding of a potentially reversible abnormality that surrounds the DNA (thus termed epigenetic) is a hot topic in cancer research, according to the researchers.

In the United States, melanoma is the fifth most common type of new cancer diagnosis in men and the seventh most common type in women. The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2012 there will be 76,250 new cases and 9,180 deaths in the United States due to melanoma.

The Shi laboratory pioneers studies in both basic chromatin biology and translational epigenetic research at the Endocrine Division, BWH Department of Medicine, and collaborates with Dr. Murphy's laboratory that focuses on melanoma biology in the Program for Dermatopathology, BWH Department of Pathology.

This pre-clinical study, which shows a key role for epigenetics in melanoma development and progression, also enlisted the support of an international team of investigators.

The findings will provide insight for future functional, pre-clinical studies of 5-hmC in cancer biology.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant GM078458, SPORE Core: NIH-NCI SPORE in Skin Cancer 5P50CA093683-08, the BWH BRI Bridge Fund, and partly by the Chinese Ministry of Education Project 985.

Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare. BWH has more than 3.5 million annual patient visits, is the largest birthing center in New England and employs nearly 15,000 people.


About Melanoma

Melanoma is a form of cancer that begins in melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as in the eye or in the intestines.

It is estimated that 76,250 men and women (44,250 men and 32,000 women) will be diagnosed with and 9,180 men and women will die of melanoma of the skin in 2012.

From 2005-2009, the median age at diagnosis for melanoma of the skin was 61 years of age.

Approximately 0.6% were diagnosed under age 20; 6.8% between 20 and 34; 10.7% between 35 and 44; 18.2% between 45 and 54; 21.6% between 55 and 64; 18.8% between 65 and 74; 16.7% between 75 and 84; and 6.6% 85+ years of age.

The age-adjusted incidence rate was 21.0 per 100,000 men and women per year.

US Mortality

From 2005-2009, the median age at death for melanoma of the skin was 68 years of age. Approximately 0.1% died under age 20; 2.6% between 20 and 34; 5.6% between 35 and 44; 13.5% between 45 and 54; 19.9% between 55 and 64; 21.2% between 65 and 74; 24.1% between 75 and 84; and 12.9% 85+ years of age.

The age-adjusted death rate was 2.7 per 100,000 men and women per year. These rates are based on patients who died in 2005-2009 in the US.

Lifetime Risk

Based on rates from 2007-2009, 1.99% of men and women born today will be diagnosed with melanoma of the skin at some time during their lifetime. This number can also be expressed as 1 in 50 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma of the skin during their lifetime. These statistics are called the lifetime risk of developing cancer.

Sometimes it is more useful to look at the probability of developing melanoma of the skin between two age groups. For example, 0.99% of men will develop melanoma of the skin between their 50th and 70th birthdays compared to 0.60% for women

Prevalence

On January 1, 2009, in the United States there were approximately 876,344 men and women alive who had a history of melanoma of the skin - 427,810 men and 448,534 women.

>> See the online booklet What You Need To Know About™ Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers

>> Melanoma home page at American Cancer Society

>> Melanoma Home Page at National Cancer Institute

Links to More Archived Stories on Melanoma Cancer

New Therapies May Mean More Life for Patients with Advanced Melanoma

Two new drugs, vemurafenib (Zelboraf) and ipilimumab (Yervoy), showing promise in slowing the progression of this skin cancer - March 16, 2012


Metastatic Melanoma Patients Live Almost Twice as Long with New Drug

Zelboraf (vemurafenib) changes the natural history of the disease to extend survival - see video - Feb. 23, 2012


Cancer Survivors Face Increased Risk of Melanoma; Melanoma Survivors Even More

Melanoma the most aggressive, dangerous skin cancer, fifth most common cancer among men, seventh among women - Dec. 19, 2011


Pre-Melanoma Skin Lesion Found Mostly in Elderly Successfully Removed with Laser

Lentigo maligna disappears as carbon dioxide laser exerts its effect by vaporization of water-containing cells - Nov. 21, 2011


Coffee, Favorite Drink of Seniors, Provides Protection from Basal Cell Carcinoma

Women get almost twice as much protection as men among 3-cup a day drinkers - see video - Oct. 26, 2011


Senior Citizens Facing Melanoma Should Worry More About Their Health Than Their Age

Patients with lower muscle density had much higher rates of their cancer returning – regardless of the tumor size or patient's age - Aug. 30, 2011


Vitamin D Appears Linked With Risk of Skin Cancer, Although Relationship Complex

Study looked at vitamin D level in senior citizens with non-melanoma skin cancers - Aug. 15, 2011


Melanoma Skin Cancer a Chronic Disease Causing Long-Term Problems for Women

Women need additional care, including follow-up and possibly counseling to optimally cope with melanoma - Feb. 21, 2011


Screening for Skin Cancer Needs Better Guidelines, More Emphasis on Senior Men

Screening without regard for risk factors can be low-yield - only 1.5 per 1,000 people screened in a national program had melanoma

Oct. 20, 2010


Most Likely to See Basal Cell Carcinoma Return with Red Hair, More Education, Early First One

Senior citizen men are most likely victims of these skin cancers but if first is after age 75, less likely to get another

Aug. 16, 2010


New Substance Highlights Melanoma Skin Cancers for Early Detection by Hybrid Scanner

Could save thousands of senior citizens by detecting melanoma in its most curable stage

Aug. 11, 2010


Advanced Melanoma Appears Cured in Some Patients by New Ipilimumab Drug Therapy

Large Phase III clinical trial finds 67% increase in survival for this drug treatment (See Video) - June 7, 2010


UK Scientists Get Green Light to Test Vaccine for Melanoma Cancers

Hope it will reverse, and even cure malignant melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer

May 26, 2010


Studies Find Increases in Non-Melanoma, Melanoma Skin Cancers; JAMA Article Says It’s Chronic Disease

Senior Citizens major targets of skin cancer;  bout one in five 70-year-olds have had non-melanoma skin cancers, and most who were affected have had more than one

March 15, 2010


Study Finds We Are Winning the War on Cancer as Death Rates Decline Steadily Since 1990

For those under age 75, drop in cancer death rate between 1970-2006 resulted in about 2.0 million years of potential life gained

March 9, 2010


Faster Diagnosis of Deadly Melanoma Skin Cancers May Come From Infrared System

Doctors need to identify a mole that may be melanoma at an early, treatable stage to save the lives of thousands of senior citizens

Feb. 26, 2010


People with Most Moles are Most Likely to Develop Deadly Melanoma Cancer, Study Finds

Already well known that people with red hair, fair skin and those who sunburn easily are most at risk of melanoma

July 6, 2009


Most Melanoma Skin Cancers Found by Physicians are on Male Senior Citizens

These doc-detected cancers tend to be thinner, found on back, more treatable

April 20, 2009


Valentine's Day Gift Idea for Senior Couples: Screen the One You Love

Couples encouraged to examine each other for suspicious moles that could be skin cancer. Researchers estimate that 40 – 50% of people in the U.S. who live to age 65 will have nonmelanoma skin cancer at least once.

Feb. 2, 2009


Large Skin Lesions More Likely to be Melanomas; Scalp, Neck Cancers More Deadly

Screening becomes increasingly critical as rate of melanomas increases

April 21, 2008


New Type Drug Found Effective in Innovative Attack on Melanoma Cancer

New drug with chemotherapy more than doubled the time patients survived without progression of their cancer - Sept. 26, 2007


Skin Cancer Most Likely to Strike Wealthy Old Men

Top three skin cancers increase with age; but malignant melanomas decrease as men pass 75, says Northern Ireland study - June 11, 2007


Skin Cancer Information Targeting Senior Citizens Now on NIH Senior Health Site

NIHSeniorHealth.gov is based on the latest research on aging

May 31, 2007


Fastest Growing Skin Cancers More Likely to Occur in Men 70 or Older

Non-factors: age spots, history of sun exposure, skin type, history of melanoma - Dec. 18, 2006


Older Men Lead in Melanoma Deaths but Need Extra Motivation to Seek Screening

Melanomas increase 15-fold in 50 years – mostly in men over age 50

July 10, 2006


Researchers Find Success in Engineering White Blood Cells to Kill Melanoma Cancer Cells

New method of gene therapy developed at National Cancer Institute

August 31, 2006

 

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