Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in Australia and is responsible for thousands of deaths around the world each. Typically caused by exposure to UV radiation, the risk of melanoma can also increase in those with a family history, depressed immune systems and those with an increased number of unusual moles.
Researchers from the Diamantina Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia now believe stopping melanoma from spreading to other parts of the body may be as simple as cutting off the blood supply to cancer. A research team have discovered the stem cells which form blood vessels in tumours and a way of switching these cells off.
“Blood vessels are vital because tumours can’t grow without them – they feed the tumours and allow the cancer to spread,” researcher Kiarash Khosrotehrani said in a statement. “If you get rid of these stem cells, then the blood vessels don’t form and the tumours don’t grow or spread to other locations.”
The ability to block these blood vessels from developing could be an effective way of treating people who have recently been diagnosed with melanoma. In fact, researchers believe the technique could prevent cancer from spreading at an early stage.
“This idea has been around for a while, but it has proven difficult to achieve because blood vessel formation is a fundamental mechanism by which our body responds to injury,” Khosrotehrani explained. “Directly targeting the stem cells that form these blood vessels is a new approach that could make the difference.”
In a new study supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the UQ research team will now test the ability of a compound to stop melanoma cells from forming blood vessels. One of the reasons why melanoma is so deadly is because it can quickly spread to other parts of the body.
“We know that before tumours spread to places like lymph nodes or lungs, the body starts growing extra blood vessels in these areas – almost as if preparing special ‘niches’ for the cancer,” researcher Jatin Patel said in a statement. “Our next study will focus on blocking the development of these niches. If the body doesn’t prepare them, then the cancer won’t grow there.”
The research was published in the Nature Communications Journal. It follows previous research released by Edith Cowan University in 2018 that developed the world’s first blood test capable of detecting melanoma in its early stages.
The new blood test works by detecting autoantibodies in the blood of patients — the immune system forms autoantibodies in response to the abnormal proteins produced by cancer cells — and allows doctors to identify melanoma with up to 80 per cent accuracy.
“We are not replacing biopsies – we are providing an additional tool to assist clinicians with diagnosis of early stage melanoma – sometimes this is tricky when people have many moles and the melanoma is thin and not pigmented,” head of the melanoma research group at Edith Cowan University Mel Ziman told Starts at 60. “If we provide a blood test to improve diagnosis of early melanoma, we could potentially save $70 million on costs of biopsies for abnormal moles.”
The best way to avoid a melanoma diagnosis in the first place is to stay sun smart by wearing sunscreen when outside and by going for a skin check every six to 12 months.