Melanoma Molecular Maps Projects



Melanoma is a malignant tumor originating from melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigment melanin [1]. During the first trimester of fetal life, precursor melanocytes arise in the neural crest (ectoderm). As the fetus develops, these cells migrate to different body areas, such as the skin, uvea, leptomeninges and mucous membranes (e.g. upper esophagus, vulva, anus). Accordingly, melanoma can arise in all these sites, although cutaneous melanoma is by far the most frequent type of melanoma.

In the MMMP website, the term "melanoma" refers to cutaneous melanoma, unless otherwise specified.

Although it represents approximately 5% to 7% of all skin malignancies (Figure 1), melanoma is the most lethal skin cancer and accounts for about 75% of all deaths from skin tumors: together with its increasing incidence and resistance to conventional antineoplastic therapy, this makes melanoma one of the most challenging issues in oncology [2, 3].

The treatment of patients with melanoma has evolved through the results of several randomized controlled trials (RCT). However, early detection is currently the best "therapy", whereas advanced disease is usually associated with a dismal prognosis despite any therapeutic effort [4, 5].

Over the past two decades, substantial preclinical advancements have been made in the understanding of melanoma molecular biology (development, progression, resistance to medical therapy). Nevertheless, the clinical implementation of molecular medicine principles (e.g. the use of melanoma-specific prognostic biomarkers and molecular therapies) is just in its infancy, and much work remains to be done in order to develop of a tumor-targeted patient-tailored therapeutic approach to this disease.


[1] Balch CM et al (Eds.), Cutaneous melanoma. Quality Medical Publishing 2003 (4th edition)

[2] Beddingfield FC, The melanoma epidemic: res ipsa loquitur. Oncologist 2003, 8: 459-65

[3] Rigel DS et al, Malignant melanoma: prevention, early detection, and treatment in the 21st century. CA Cancer J Clin 2000, 50: 215-36

[4] Thompson JF et al, Cutaneous melanoma. Lancet 2005, 365: 687-701

[5] Tsao H et al, Management of cutaneous melanoma. N Engl J Med 2004, 351: 998-1012

Figure 1: Types of skin cancers and their relative frequency.

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