Melanoma and Albinism
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
Peter Faletra Ph.D.
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
Paul Mahoney, PhD
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Update: June 2012