Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in humans and mainly manifests in three forms: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (the non-melanoma skin cancers), and melanoma.
In an attempt to connect the dots between sun exposure and skin cancers, a recent study published in Nature Genetics, says that a genetic mutation caused by ultraviolet (UV) light is likely to be the driving force behind millions of human skin cancers.
The researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine made the discovery while investigating the genetic causes of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma.
They compared the DNA sequences of genes from the tumor cells with those of normal skin and looked for mutations that occurred only in the tumors.
What did they find out?
The mutation occurs in a gene called KNSTRN, which is involved in helping cells divide their DNA equally during cell division.
They found that UV induced KNSTRN mutation leads to 20 percent of actinic keratoses – a premalignant skin condition that often progresses to squamous cell carcinoma. However, they could not find the mutation in 122 samples of normal skin. This observation could indicate that the mutation is likely to be an early event in the development of the skin cancer.
“This previously unknown oncogene* is activated by sunlight and drives the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas,” said senior study author Paul Khavari, a professor from the Stanford University School of Medicine in the US. (*Genes that cause cancer when mutated are known as oncogenes.)
How will Skin Cancer Research benefit from this?
Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common cancer in humans.”Our research shows that skin cancers arise differently from other cancers and that a single mutation can cause genomic catastrophe,” Khavari noted.
The identification of a new oncogene will allow researchers to better understand how these types of skin cancers develop.