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Is this the end of skin cancer deaths? New molecule stops cells spreading

09 January 2017 - 16:33 By Tanya Steenkap

A new molecule has given doctors fresh hope in the battle against a type of skin cancer particularly prevalent among white South Africans.

This slide shows a melanoma on a patient's skin.
This slide shows a melanoma on a patient's skin.
Image: National Cancer Institute

The man-made molecule‚ discovered in the US‚ is claimed to stop malignant melanoma — the deadliest skin cancer — spreading to other parts of the body‚ and is 90% effective.

“The majority of people die from melanoma because of the disease spreading‚” said Richard Neubig‚ head of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University.

“Our compound can block cancer migration and potentially increase patient survival.” In lab experiments‚ the compound reduced the spread of melanoma cells by 85% to 90%. It also significantly reduced tumours in the lungs of mice that had been injected with human melanoma cells.

Whites in South Africa have one of the highest incidences of malignant melanoma in the world‚ at 19.2 cases per 100 000 people annually.

South Africans are particularly susceptible due to high ultraviolet radiation.

Certain provinces have higher rates; the Western Cape has the same malignant melanoma rate as Australia‚ where there are 49 cases per 100 000 people annually.

Caradee Wright‚ a specialist scientist at the South African Medical Research Council‚ said awareness of malignant melanoma was low. “When you talk to people in the Department of Health‚ in communicable diseases‚ they say it’s not an issue because there are bigger problems like TB and HIV/Aids.”

The World Health Organisation says the main causes of melanoma are exposure to sun and a history of sunburn. “If you get intense doses of sun‚ it is worse than a farmer who is out in the sun every day‚” said Wright.

While melanoma was more prevalent among whites‚ black people with symptoms were often overlooked due to the type of melanoma they were more susceptible to.

Whites developed melanomas on the lower legs‚ stomach and thighs‚ while black people generally showed signs on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Neubig said more research was needed before the compound became a usable drug. The next step was to identify which melanoma patients it would work best on.

- TMG Digital/The Times