Researchers find lung cancer driver in non-sun melanoma

Genetic melanomas that are not related to the sun are not susceptible to the same targeted treatments as sun-related melanomas, researchers report.
By Amy Wallace  |  Oct. 23, 2017 at 5:16 PM
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Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Researchers know all melanomas are not alike but a new study has revealed how much different non-sun-related melanomas are from sun-related melanomas.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is most commonly related to sun exposure but the can also be genetic in nature and not related to the sun. These types of melanomas are not susceptible to the same targeted treatments as sun-related melanomas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76,665 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanoma in 2014, and 9,324 people died from the disease that year.

The new study, published in the October edition of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, identified ALK-fusion, a genetic change, in a patient sample of the mucosal melanoma, a melanoma subtype not caused by sun exposure.

Researchers treated the sample with crizotinib and ceritinib, U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments for ALK-positive lung cancer and found that the tumor shrank dramatically.

The results seemed to reinforce the theory that genetic changes that cause cancer might be shared among different cancer types.

"Maybe these non-sun-exposed melanomas are molecularly more like a lung cancer or a colorectal cancer, and maybe we should be treating them like that," Kasey Couts, an assistant research professor at the CU School of Medicine, said in a news release.

A genetic change known as gene fusion involves genes that should sit adjacent on the genome but instead are accidentally spliced together in a process that creates a new fusion protein. Researchers found that the gene ALK gets fused with the EML4 gene to create the fusion gene EML4-ALK, creating a new protein responsible for a subset of non-small cell lung cancers.

Researchers found EML4-ALK fusion in the sample of mucosal melanoma, which they successfully treated with ALK-inhibitors used to treat ALK-positive lung cancer.

"It seems like these melanomas that don't come from sun exposure may have fusions not seen in the more common form of the disease, and thus may be more susceptible to targeted treatments that attack these fusions than they are to drugs developed to treat other kinds of melanoma," Couts said.

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