Skin Cancer Cells Change Shape to Spread Around the Body


Scientists have identified genes that can change shape in melanoma skin cancer cells, and thereby escape from the skin and spread to other parts of the body.

Medical Negligence

This discovery could help scientists to develop drugs for the treatment of malignant skin melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. 10,000 people are diagnosed and more than 2,200 people die from melanoma in the UK every year.

Scientific discovery of shape-shifting cells

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London and The Methodist Research Institute in Houston used fruit flies and human cells to investigate how the cells work as they take on five different shapes. They discovered that once specific genes were switched off, they were able to change the mix of the shapes in the cells and identify several that controlled cell shape. They then found that switching off these cells in melanoma cells had a similar effect.

Melanoma cells can change shapes, which allows them to squeeze between healthy cells and spread through the body. They can be rounded, which allows them to travel through the bloodstream or invade soft tissues like the brain. Alternatively, they can be an elongated shape and travel through harder tissues such as bone.

Crucially, scientists have now discovered that melanoma cells can switch between these shapes, allowing a single cell to invade multiple tissue types and thereby quicken the spread of the disease.

Importance of the research

This shape-shifting means that the cells can invade lots of different tissues throughout the body, such as the liver, lungs and brain. The research provides scientists with new information that could help towards the development of new drugs to treatment melanoma skin cancer.

Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “This lab research gives us a better grasp of the way cancer cells behave in the body. By mimicking how cells move and spread, our researchers are learning more about melanoma skin cancer and bringing us closer to beating it."

Although this is important research, it should also be remembered that sometimes a medical mistake can also result in the spreading of the disease. For example, if there is a failure to recognise the importance of symptoms which then results in the condition not being investigated or an urgent referral not being made. The consequence of which could be more extensive and invasive treatment. Or it may be that as a result of the failure to promptly diagnose the cancer, which could have been cured, is so far advanced that the only treatment available would be palliative rather than curative.

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