Shining a light on melanomas that aren't caused by the sun
4 May 2017
‘Slip, slop, slap’ is synonymous with being Australian and playing it safe in the sun. These sun smart rules reduce our chances of getting melanoma of the skin. However, new research tells a different story for those affected by rarer forms of melanoma.
The genetic study, led by Australian researchers at Melanoma Institute Australia, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and The University of Sydney as part of the Australian Melanoma Genome Project, has found that melanomas on the hands and feet (known as acral) and internal surfaces (known as mucosal) are not linked to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This is in contrast to melanoma of the skin, which is strongly related to UV radiation.
The research, published today in the prestigious Nature journal, shows that acral and mucosal melanoma have different causes to skin melanoma. This has implications for preventing and treating these forms of melanoma, which occur worldwide.
“This is by far the largest study to have looked at the whole genome in melanoma, and it has proven these less common melanomas are strikingly different in terms of their causes,” says Professor Richard Scolyer, Conjoint Medical Director of Melanoma Institute Australia and a lead author.
Every year in Australia, up to 420 people are diagnosed with acral or mucosal melanomas. They affect people of all ethnic backgrounds, and are the most common forms of melanoma in people with very dark skin. These forms of melanoma often behave more aggressively, are harder to diagnose and have a poorer outcome compared to skin melanoma.
Treatment for skin melanoma has advanced rapidly in recent years, with therapies tripling the life expectancy of some advanced melanoma patients. For the first time, this research sheds light on why revolutionary treatments—many of which have been pioneered at Melanoma Institute Australia—don’t work as well for acral or mucosal melanomas.
“Acral and mucosal melanomas occur all over the world, but they have been even more challenging to treat than skin melanoma,” says Professor Nicholas Hayward, a lead author from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. “Knowing these are really different diseases to skin melanoma is important for development of future therapies.”
The study also found acral and mucosal melanomas have much less gene damage compared with skin melanoma and the damage “footprints" did not match those of any known causes of cancer, like sun exposure. This means we must target new research to discover what is causing these cancers, and what can prevent them.
While they had fewer gene drivers that could be targeted for therapy, new ones were found. Some mucosal melanomas unexpectedly had mutations in the SF3B1 and GNAQ genes, which had previously only been connected to melanoma of the eye.
Understanding which gene mutations are driving an individual tumour is the basis of personalised cancer medicine. This is the first study to survey the entire DNA sequence of melanomas, not just the genes themselves, giving 50 times more information than in previous work. Many genes were found to have damage in their control regions, the so-called “dark matter” of our genome, and these may be previously unsuspected drivers of melanoma.
“This is a world-leading genetic analysis of melanoma,” explains Professor Graham Mann, a lead author at Melanoma Institute Australia. “We are working hard now to turn these discoveries about the uniqueness of acral and mucosal melanoma, and about the new control mutations, into better results for our melanoma patients.”
Publication: Hayward, N.K. et al. Whole-genome landscapes of major melanoma subtypes. Nature. 03 May 2017. doi: 10.1038/nature22071. [Epub ahead of print]
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Throughout January our community created, hosted and participated in some amazing events, each of them helping us on our quest to reach zero deaths from melanoma.
Australian television presenter, interior designer and mother Kyly Clarke has been announced as the new Ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and its national awareness and fundraising campaign Melanoma March.
Melanoma Institute Australia has recently partnered with three other organisations to boost support for melanoma patients and their carers across Australia.
Melanoma patients and their families across Western Australia will benefit from strengthened and expanded services with the merging of melanomaWA and Melanoma Institute Australia.
Australian researchers have played a critical role in the discovery of a potential new test to predict which early stage melanoma patients are at high risk of their disease recurring and progressing.
We are extremely grateful for our community fundraisers, who, even in this difficult time, have given up their time and effort to fundraise so we can continue to work towards our goal of zero deaths from melanoma.
Melanoma patients are set to benefit from subsidised access to immunotherapy treatment for high risk early-stage and advanced-stage melanoma patients.
An informative article on how immunotherapy is revolutionising cancer treatment, written by Jill Margo and featured in the Australian Financial Review.
Melanoma patients and their families in the Riverina will benefit from strengthened and sustained melanoma services with the merger of the Amie St Clair Melanoma Trust and Melanoma Institute Australia.
Belmont High School at Lake Macquarie has been announced winner of the 2019 SunSafe Student Ambassador Program video competition.
It’s time again to say thank you to our amazing community fundraisers!
Videos of the sessions at the recent Patient Information Evening co-hosted by Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and Melanoma Patients Australia (MPA) are now available for viewing.
MIA is well-represented in the poster sessions at the Society for Melanoma Research 2019 Congress in the USA, with four poster presentations being given by members of our translational research lab.
Professor Georgina Long has today opened the Society for Melanoma Research 2019 Congress in Salt Lake City, Utah.
MIA’s Co-Medical Directors, Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer, have both been named Highly Cited Researchers, according to the Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers 2019 list.
Melanoma Patients Australia (MPA) and Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) have announced a new multi-year agreement to provide enhanced support services for melanoma patients nationally.
It is time again to say thank you to our incredible community fundraisers who are helping us get closer to our goal of zero deaths from melanoma.
MIA has presented promising data regarding progression-free survival rates for advanced melanoma patients at the ESMO 2019 Congress in Barcelona.
Another month has flown by and yet again we have a host of amazing community fundraisers who generously gave up their time to help us reach our goal of zero deaths from melanoma.