Bob Marley’s Skin Cancer Type: Not Caused by Sun

What You Need to Know: Acral melanomas, the rare type of skin cancer that caused musician Bob Marley’s death, are genetically distinct from other types of skin cancer. Acral melanoma most often affects the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, nail-beds and other hairless parts of the skin. Unlike other more common types of melanoma, it’s not caused by UV damage from the sun. Acral melanomas, the rare type of skin cancer that caused musician Bob Marley’s death, are genetically distinct from other types of skin cancer.

What’s New: Cancer Research UK scientists have discovered that acral melanomas — the rare type of skin cancer that caused reggae musician Bob Marley’s death — are genetically distinct from other more common types of skin cancer.

Background: Acral melanoma most often affects the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, nail-beds and other hairless parts of the skin. Unlike other more common types of melanoma, it’s not caused by UV damage from the sun.

Research: The team, from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute at The University of Manchester, sequenced the tumours of five patients with acral melanoma and combined this with data from three other patients. They then compared the pattern of genetic faults found in these eight tumours with that of more common types of skin cancer.

This revealed that the type of DNA damage found in acral melanoma is very different from other types of skin cancer. For example in acral melanomas, it was much more common to find large chunks of the DNA that had broken off and reattached elsewhere, as opposed to the smaller DNA changes typically found in more common types of skin cancer.

Study leader Professor Richard Marais, director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, at The University of Manchester, said: “Too much UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds can lead to a build-up of DNA damage that increases 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.”

Nell Barrie, 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.
“And this is why skin cancer will be a key research focus for the Manchester Cancer Research Centre.”

My Take: Not all skin cancer is linked to sun exposure. Still, most skin cancer is associated with solar exposure. So don’t forget to take reasonable precautions, including the use of sunscreen, hats and other protective clothing, and limiting exposure to the sun. No sunburns! I’m Dr. Michael Hunter, and I am off to get just a bit of sun today.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

References

  • Cancer Research UK. “Scientists learn more about rare skin cancer that killed Bob Marley.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140820123209.htm>.
  • Simon J. Furney, Samra Turajlic, Gordon Stamp, J. Meirion Thomas, Andrew Hayes, Dirk Strauss, Mike Gavrielides, Wei Xing, Martin Gore, James Larkin, Richard Marais. The mutational burden of acral melanoma revealed by whole-genome sequencing and comparative analysis. Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/pcmr.12279

 

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