From Cells to Tumors
To keep the body healthy, normal skin cells continually grow, divide, mature, and, after a set period of time, die and are sloughed off. When we are young, the cell growth happens quickly to keep up with the building and developing of the body. As we age, the new cells that are produced are created to replace worn-out or dying cells. Sometimes though, cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed, or fail to heed signals to stop growing and die. This mass of cells forms a growth or tumor.
Cancer cells develop because of damage to genes in a cell’s DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the part of a cell that carries genetic information and passes it from one generation to the next. This damage is called a mutation, and a mutation can lead to inappropriate growth of the cells. Mutations can cause a cell to acquire the ability to move and survive in locations in the body where it was not supposed to be. Because a cell copies its own DNA before it divides to make new cells, any mutations in the original cell will be passed along to the cells that follow.
Damaged DNA in Melanocytes Can Cause Melanoma
Melanoma is the name of the cancer that results from a melanocyte that inherits or experiences sufficient mutations that it grows and spreads in a dangerous way.
- You can inherit damaged DNA from a parent. A gene is a defined section of DNA.
- DNA damage may also be caused by exposure to carcinogens in the environment, such as cigarette smoke.
- The majority of melanomas (80% – 90%) are thought to occur, not as a direct result of an inherited gene defect, but rather due to DNA damage acquired through one’s lifetime. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is known to directly cause DNA damage that can lead to cancerous changes in our cells.
- UV radiation is the most important environmental exposure that increases one’s risk of developing melanoma. UV radiation comes primarily from the sun, but can also be found in all light that causes a tan, such as tanning beds.
- DNA damage happens in cells every day. Many of the cells with damaged DNA die, but your body also has the ability to repair damaged DNA cells. In rare cases, the cells with damaged DNA survive and perpetuate the damage in the cells they create by dividing. In this way, cancer grows and spreads.