Disappearance of certain genetic material may give insight into melanoma

Call it the case of the missing genetic material. No one knows exactly what causes melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, but researchers have identified something called a microRNA that may provide some clues to detecting and treating the disease.

A team at the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute in Orlando, Fla., has discovered that microRNA211 appears in healthy skin pigment cells but not in melanoma cells.

"It's disappearing, so it has something to do with the cancer," research team leader Dr. Ranjan Perera said in an Orlando Sentinel story. "If it is present in normal skin — and in benign tumors — we know it is not melanoma. If it's not there, it could be due to melanoma." The new findings, published in PLoS ONE, also suggest the discovery may lead to a new test for melanoma.

How do you get melanoma in the first place? Studies show the skin cancer, which accounts for about 8,000 deaths per year in the United States, for some may be linked to early sun exposure and to rays from tanning beds, the American Cancer Society reports.

For more information on melanoma, the National Cancer Institute provides an online guide on how to identify moles and freckles that may need to be screened for melanoma.

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