Cancers are described now by a system based only on a tumor's location and its microscopic anatomy. Chin says the research shows how genetic information adds a new element that can help understand and classify tumors more accurately.
The authors also learned that the rate of mutation is highest in people with chronic sun exposure. This fits other evidence that links development of the disease to ultraviolet light.
In the United States, melanoma has increased over the past three decades. It is one of the more common cancers among young people, and more than 76,000 new cases will be diagnosed across all age groups this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
While the study has uncovered important new information, Chin warned that the melanoma genome is highly complex. For instance, the researchers saw what she described as a great deal of "structural rearrangement" on the genome. It is unclear what that means.
"It's like a bomb's gone off and everything's in the wrong order," she said. "And we're not sure how to put it all back together."
Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center, said it is interesting that the researchers found a breast cancer gene in a melanoma tumor. "We group melanomas together as one type of cancer now, but in five to 10 years, we'll most likely see them as many different types of cancer," he said.
Rigel also said he was encouraged that the researchers may have found another potential target for drug therapy.
Find out more about melanoma at the American Cancer Society.
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