Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Melanoma and Albinism
Name: Ashley
Status: Student
Age: 18
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: October 2002


Question:
If skin cancer is melanoma, or extra melanin, and albinism is a genetic mutation that cant produce melanin, does that mean that albinos cannot get skin cancer?



Replies:
You should be a scientist! At the Department of Energy's Office of Science, Brookhaven National Lab a scientist is investigating the causes of melanoma. Part of his theory involves just your guess...albinos do not get melanoma...they can get other skin cancer but NOT melanoma. It seems melanin is directly involved in the serious cancer of the skin called melanoma (produced by the cells called melanocytes (surprise :)). You have put your finger on a basic logical approach in science. If a certain condition is believed to be related to a certain variable...eliminate the variable and the condition should be gone. The problem in biological systems is to find a natural case or make one that fits your needs. Good luck!

Peter Faletra Ph.D.
Assistant Director
Science Education
Office of Science
Department of Energy


Ashley,

your logic sounds good, but you have one detail wrong that is messing up your conclusion. Melanoma is not a case of extra melanin. Melanoma is the scientific term for a cancerous cell that started out as a type of skin cell. "-oma" usually refers to a cancerous cell: a sarcoma is a cancer that started in muscle cells (sarc refers to muscles), lymphoma is cancerous cells that were originally cells of the immune system, etc. So albinos do not produce melanin, true enough, but they certainly can get melanoma. After all, they have the same skin cells everyone has, but they have a mutation in the gene encoding the pigment, melanin. In fact, I would be willing to bet they are a HIGHER risk for skin cancer, because they do not have the pigment melanin to help shield them from the harmful rays present in sunlight. Good question though!

Paul Mahoney, PhD



Click here to return to the Molecular Biology Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory