A team of scientists from Israel report compelling new insights into how the metastatic spread of melanoma is assisted by nearby fat cells. The research does not suggest obesity enhances the metastatic potential of skin cancers but it does point to new drugs that can stop the spread of melanoma.
For many people melanoma is a ticking time bomb. Although melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, it is extraordinarily treatable if caught before it spreads. If removed before it metastasizes, 99 percent of people are essentially cured, but as few as 25 percent of people survive the disease once it spreads to other parts of the body.
“We have answered a major question that has preoccupied scientists for years,” says Tel Aviv University’s Carmit Levy, one of the lead researchers on the new study. “What makes melanoma change form, turning aggressive and violent? Locked in the skin’s outer layer, the epidermis, melanoma is very treatable; it is still Stage 1, it has not penetrated the dermis to spread through blood vessels to other parts of the body and it can simply be removed without further damage.”
After studying a large number of melanoma biopsy samples the researchers found fat cells unexpectedly collecting near the tumor sites. What was strange was that these subcutaneous fat cells had seemed to move to an upper dermal skin layer, from their regular location deeper in the hypodermis.