Inactivation of Gene Might Cause Skin Cancer to Spread

MONDAY, June 11 (HealthDay News) -- Inactivation of a certain gene causes the deadly skin cancer melanoma to spread, a new study finds.

University of North Carolina researchers conducted tests on tumors from humans and mice, and found that turning off a gene called LKB1 caused non-aggressive melanoma cells to become highly metastatic.

They found that LKB1 inactivation also plays a role in lung cancer metastasis, but the effect in melanoma was more dramatic.

"Although we are not totally certain how LKB1 loss promotes metastasis in multiple cancer types, one important effect is the loss of LKB1 starts a chain reaction, activating a family of proteins called SRC kinases, which are known to drive metastasis," study leader Dr. Norman Sharpless, associate director for translational research at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a university news release.

"Loss of LKB1 occurs in about 30 percent of lung cancer and 10 percent of melanoma, and ongoing studies at UNC and elsewhere will determine if these LKB1-deficient tumors have a worse prognosis. These data suggest LKB1-deficient cancers will be more likely to metastasize, and therefore more likely to be incurable," he explained.

The findings, published June 11 in the journal Cancer Cell, may help lead to new drugs to treat metastatic melanoma, a UNC expert said in the release.

Advanced melanoma kills more than 8,600 Americans a year and is the most common form of cancer in young adults aged 25 to 29.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: University of North Carolina Health Care, news release, June 6, 2012