Research reveals how UV rays activate skin cancer

Scientists discover how ultraviolet rays trigger skin cancer. They may also have found a way to stop skin cancer in its tracks using a gene target.

Melanoma is a cancer of the skin pigment cells, which are called melanocytes. Melanoma only accounts for around 1 percent of all skin cancers, yet it is responsible for most skin cancer-related deaths.

Melanomas can occur anywhere on the skin, but they are most likely to develop on the chest and back in men and on the legs in women. Other common sites for melanomas include the neck and face.

In the United States, around 87,110 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). They also estimate that around 9,730 individuals will die from the disease.

Although some of these melanoma cases stem from pre-existing moles, most come from sources that were, until now, unknown.

New research, led by Andrew White — an assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, NY — has found that when melanocyte stem cells accumulate a certain number of genetic mutations, they become potential cancer-causing cells.