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Name: Ashley
Status: Student
Age: 18
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: October 2002

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?

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


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

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