Patients get warning in skin cancer breakthrough

Scientists say patients with protein that switches off ageing need careful medical follow-up

28 March 2017
By Connexion journalist

Scientists in France have found the way skin cancer develops and said some patients need to have much better care to prevent killer melanomas from developing.

The researchers, from Nice-Sophia-Antipolis University, discovered the molecular changes that happen in a protein that has been identified as increasing skin cancer risk five-fold and which could also lead to kidney cancer.

Skin cancer has doubled in France in 10 years and there are 12,000 new cases every year – with people in the north-west of France more at risk from the aggressive melanoma form.

Led by Corinne Bertolotto and Robert Ballotti and working with researchers from Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris and the Université de Louvain, they found that the protein MITF switches off the normal cell ageing process to cause metastasis – development of secondary malignant growths.

The MITF protein was identified several years ago but until now it was not known how it worked.

Their research was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and Dr Bertolotto said that a mutation of MITF affected the ageing ‘senescence’ process which was a “powerful anti-tumour barrier that stopped the development of tumours”.

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France

Once the protein acted to inhibit the anti-tumour barrier the cancer cells grew along with other genitive alterations.

Patients who have the protein are five times more at risk of having skin cancer and the researchers said they needed continuing acute medical surveillance.

The cancers could be eradicated in 80%-90% of cases if caught very early when they were on the skin. But if they reached deeper layers then the survival rate fell considerably.

People who have a family history of skin or kidney cancer should speak to their doctor to find out if tests at a specialist genetic clinic are necessary.

Last year a study by the Syndicat National des Dermatologues found that people in Brittany have more than double the potentially fatal melanoma skin cancer as people on the Riviera and nearly two and a half times that of people in the rest of France.

Dr Claudine Blanchet-Bardon, a dermatologist and anatomical pathologist, who led the study said that British and other northern European residents in France should make special efforts to protect themselves – even when it is cloudy.

Her study showed that in 2014 there were 1,305 melanoma cancers in Brittany when the national average suggested there should only 558 – and when there were just 585 in the Riviera departments Var and Alpes-Maritimes.

Get news, views and information from France