Melanomas are the most aggressive of all skin cancers and often appear as black or brown marks on the skin. Once it spreads, it is often fatal, but survival rates are relatively high if it is detected early. It is expected that more than 75,000 melanomas cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year alone. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 10,000 of those cases are expected to be fatal.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University, led by Carmit Levy of the university’s Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, have figured out how melanomas spread to other organs. This discovery could transform treatment of the disease. Levy notes that the initial tumor that appears on the skin is not the threat. Only when the cancer metastases and the tumor cells colonize in vital organs like the liver, lungs, brain and bones, does the disease become deadly.
Researchers discovered that the mechanism used by melanoma to spread consists of sending out tiny vesicles (small cysts or blisters) that contain the disease, to other parts of the body.
Once this was known, the team was able to develop elements that prevents the spread of the disease before the metastatic stage. Levy feels that their solution could serve as likely candidates for future drugs and help make melanoma a non-threatening, disease that is easily cured. This is a significant first step on the road to a full remedy.
The research was published in the Nature Cell Biology journal.