Discoveries Halt Deadliest Skin Cancers

Helping our own immune system do the fighting is the focus

We love the sun — there’s no doubting that. And as summer wanes, we’re all doing what we can to soak up those last few days of rays before the kids head back to school and our vacations wind to a close.

Knowing this, dermatologists, oncologists, and cancer researchers have begged us for years to understand the warning signs of skin cancer and get tested early if there are any noticeable changes in our skin, moles, or birthmarks. The reason — the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, continues to rise.

“Targeting these tumor-promoting proteins on melanoma cells with specific antibodies resulted in significant reduction of metastasis,” said one researcher.

In addition to the rising numbers, people with malignant skin cancer often go to the doctor too late — the aggressive cancer has already spread. The liver, lungs, bones, and brain are most often affected by these metastases, according to, and the 10-year survival rate for patients with metastatic melanoma remains at less than 10 percent, as current treatments impact only a small number of patients.

It is why there is hope for a growing number of new discoveries — among them, a cell surface protein. The discovery could lead to a new form of immunotherapy treatment if further tests prove both safe and effective.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, recently discovered that by blocking a protein known as CD47 in combination with a second cell surface protein, CD271, they were able to nearly stop further metastases — at least in mice.

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“Cancer cells with specific cell surface proteins represent [the] most dangerous tumor and metastasis-initiating subset that continuously drives tumor growth and metastasis,” said Alexander D. Boiko, UCI assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at the Ayala School of Biological Sciences.

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“By targeting these masking and tumor-promoting proteins on melanoma cells with specific antibodies, we were able to make these cells susceptible to the organism immune attack, as well as their direct killing, which resulted in significant reduction of metastasis,” he told LifeZette.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Know Your Risk for Melanoma” source=””]Light skin, blonde or red hair, and blue eyes|Tanning bed use before the age 30|Exposure to UV radiation|Family history of melanoma|Sunburns at a young age|High number of moles|Weakened immune system|Over the age of 50[/lz_bulleted_list]

While further research is needed on a dual CD47/CD271 antibody therapy, and additional trials will take years, the discovery offers hope in an area of cancer research where few advancements have been made for decades. The full study appears in Cell Reports.

“Combining this therapy with other emerging treatments that also modulate the immune system represents a new approach that may offer increased benefit against metastatic melanomas,” said Boiko. “These are very exciting times for the cancer immunotherapy field and we are aiming to add an important component to this type of treatment, which will hopefully translate into a more effective outcome for patients.”

The news comes on the heels of word about Keytruda, a newer immunotherapy drug that is already working to eradicate metastatic melanoma. The therapy is credited with curing the metastatic melanoma diagnosed in former President Jimmy Carter in 2015.

The drug is given every three weeks in a 30-minute injection, and it “helps the immune system ‘do what it would naturally do but in a much stronger way,'” said Dr. Hashem Younes, an oncologist with the Allegheny Health Network, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

There are advancements being made as well in the detection of skin cancer: A new microscope being developed at Colorado State University, and shown in the video below, could eliminate the need for many invasive melanoma biopsies.

[lz_ndn video=31206156]

While these advancements come too late for too many families, they do offer hope to the more than 76,000 new cases of invasive melanoma diagnosed each year in the U.S.

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