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A new drug used to treat arthritis could halt melanoma skin cancer.

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Skin by Michel Téo Sin, via Flickr.

Leflunomide, an immunosuppressive drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis have been found to halt the growth of melanoma cells in mice. The researchers, from the University of East Anglia, published their findings in the journal Oncotarget. The team discovered that Leflunomide triggers apoptosis (programmed cell death) in melanoma cells, and when used in combination with selumetinib (a drug already being used to treat skin cancer- it inhibits the the activity of a protein which is useful for the survival of melanoma cells), the treatment seemed to be more effective, then when the drugs were used alone.

Skin cancer is a very common type of cancer which involves the formation of a malignant growth of the skin. There are 3 major types of skin cancer which are: 1) Basal cell carcinoma (most common) 2) Squamous cell carcinoma and 3) Melanoma skin cancer (least common). 

Melanoma skin cancer develops in the pigment containing cells known as melanocytes (these are specialized skin cells which produce melanin in response to UV radiation so as to protect the skin). It is considered as the most dangerous form of skin cancer, most commonly caused by excessive ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure. The latter causes DNA damage to skin cells, which in turn triggers mutations (genetic defects) resulting in the affected melanocytes to multiply rapidly forming malignant tumours. Early detection of melanoma is essential for the treatment to be effective, because once it spreads in the body, it becomes much more difficult to treat.

Symptoms 

The ABCDE method is used to determine whether the abnormal skin growth is a melanoma as shown in the picture below.

  • Most benign moles have a single colour – brown. Most benign moles pose no risk, but they can turn into melanomas with age with due to sun exposure. The appearance of multiple moles with a variety of colours – brown, black or tan is a warning sign. Note that melanomas can also become white, red or blue.
  • Benign moles do not change shape over time. If a particular mole starts to evolve, meaning there is a change in colour, size, elevation, shape or else it starts to itch, bleed or crust, it means danger.
  • Malignant moles are larger then benign moles. If the mole is larger then the pencil eraser, seek a doctor immediately.

If you notice any of the ABCDE signs of melanoma, and start to observe many moles, get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible.

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