Rare skin cancer can be caused without UV rays

Scientists have found out more about the genetic make-up of the rare acral melanoma, a type of skin cancer which is genetically distinct from other more common types of skin cancer.

The study, which was recently published in the journal Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research last week, found that acral melanoma affects the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, nail-bed and other hairless parts of the skin – and crucially, it’s not caused by UV damage from the sun

The cancer is often associated with iconic reggae musician Bob Marley, who died in 1981 after a four-year battle with acral melanoma that started on his toe.

The majority of skin cancers develop on the hairy parts of the body and are referred to as cutaneous melanomas. Others include the rare ocular melanomas, which grow in the eye and mucosal melanomas which develop on the mucus-producing surfaces of the body (the mouth or the nose).

The research team behind the history-making information are from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute at the University of Manchester and have used DNA-sequencing to distinguish the tumours of five patients with acral melanoma from the tumours of three patients with other forms of skin cancer. They used this data to then compare the DNA structure of all eight patients to help identify the individual characteristics of acral melanoma.

Results showed that the DNA and specifically, DNA damage, found in acral melanoma is very different from other types of skin cancer. In acral melanoma, scientists were more likely to find large chunks of DNA which had broken off and reattached somewhere else, as opposed to the smaller amount of DNA damage found throughout other types of skin cancer.

Research team leader, Professor Richard Marais, who is also director of the Cancer Research UK Institute in Manchester said, “Too much UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds can lead to a build-up of DNA damage that increases your skin cancer risk, but acral skin cancer is different because the gene faults that drive it aren’t caused by UV damage. Pinpointing these faults is a major step towards understanding what causes this unique form of cancer, and how it can best be treated.”

Neil Barrie, the senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK said, “We hope that understanding the faults that drive acral melanoma will unlock better ways of treating this rare yet aggressive type of skin cancer. Our scientists are striving to improve survival for all cancer patients, including those with rarer forms of the disease.”

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