Sydney, Nov 16 - Scientists have stumbled upon a gene that halts a common form of skin cancer, potentially opening the way to better treatment in future.
Stepen Jane, professor of medicine at Monash University, said they discovered that this gene, which has a bearing on foetal skin development, is missing in adult squamous cell carcinoma - tumour cells.
SCC usually arises from cells lining body cavities. Therefore, it can develop in the skin, lips, mouth, oesophagus, urinary bladder, prostate, lung, vagina and cervix.
Monash researchers working with Rick Pearson, associate professor from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, showed that loss of this particular gene knocks out the signal to stop skin cells from growing.
Without this stop signal, the cells keep increasing in number and eventually form a cancer, the journal Cancer Cell reports.
Although researchers initially focused on skin cancer, they found that the protective gene is also lost in SCC that arises in head and neck cancers and are tied with a very poor patient prognosis, according to a Monash statement.
'Virtually every SCC tumour we looked at had almost undetectable levels of this particular gene, so its absence is a very profound driver of these cancers,' Jane said.
Identifying this driver of cancer in skin and other organs provides a clear direction for developing strategies for both prevention and treatment in the relatively near future.
'Our research indicates that drugs already in clinical trials for other cancers may actually be effective in treating SCC - they just need to be applied to the skin or head and neck cancers.
'This means a number of the usual hurdles in getting therapies to trial have already been cleared, so patients could be reaping the benefits of this research in under five years,' Jane said.