Resort Kemer Beach with pier, sun beds and sunbathing women and men. Resort Kemer Beach with pier, sun beds and sunbathing women and men. Many vacationers will be venturing out to beaches around the world this month. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and doctors are studying ways to identify how and when it turns from non-invasive to deadly. (Photo: Grigvovan / Shutterstock)

Skin cancer 'trigger' identified, could lead to better treatment

Advancement in melanoma research helps doctors better understand the path this potentially deadly disease travels.

How does a cancer cell go from treatable to lethal?

Researchers in Israel and France studying melanoma think they've found an answer – and they're hoping it will lead to better treatment of the most deadly type of skin cancer.

Their research, recently published in the journal Molecular Cell, focuses on the "trigger," or the point in which a cancer cell transforms from non-invasive (non-lethal) to invasive (potentially deadly). By pinpointing exactly when this "trigger" occurs, doctors may be able to prevent cancer cells from becoming aggressive.

"When I saw the results, I jumped out of the room and shouted, 'We got it!'" study leader Dr. Carmit Levy, of Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Now that we know the triggers of melanoma transformation and the kind of signaling that leads to that transformation, we know what to block. The trick was to solve the mystery, and we did."

In addition to Levy, researchers from four Israeli institutions – Tel Aviv University, the Technion Institute of Technology, Sheba Medical Center and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem – as well as the Institut Gustave Roussy in France contributed to the research.

An ideal scenario for melanoma patients, Levy said, is that the cancer is caught in time and removed before spreading (metastasizing) through the bloodstream and other parts of the body. But until now, doctors weren't able to identify when or how this aggressive invasion occurred. With the findings from the international team, doctors may be able to better predict a patient's cancer journey and, in turn, improve their chances of survival.

"Normal skin cells are not supposed to 'travel,'" said Levy. "We found that when melanoma is situated at the top layer, a trigger sends it down to the dermis and then further down to invade blood vessels. If we could stop it at the top layer, block it from invading the bloodstream, we could stop the progression of the cancer."

Promising as this research is, it does not imply that melanoma is any less deadly, or that skin cancer is any less of a threat. Doctors still recommend these steps to prevent melanoma and other types of skin cancer:

  • Limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • When in the sun, wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt and sunglasses.
  • Use broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum 30 SPF that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Avoid tanning beds.

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