Scientists claim to have achieved a major breakthrough by identifying a key gene which helps protect people from squamous cell cancer, a common form of skin cancer which can occur in multiple organs in the body.
An international team, led by Professor Stephen Jane and Dr Charbel Darido of Monash University, says the presence of the gene, called Grhl3, signals "Stop!" to cell proliferation while its absence may trigger squamous cell cancer (SCC).
The scientists claim to have found that the gene is also virtually absent in squamous cell cancer that arises in other tissues, including head and neck cancers, which have a poor prognosis, the 'Cancer Cell' journal reported.
Because drugs that are effective against SCC are already in development for treating other cancers, the scientists hope treatments and prevention therapies for SCC could be offered to patients within five years.
In their research, the scientists showed that loss of this particular gene knocks out the signal to stop skin cells from growing. And, without this stop signal, the cells keep increasing in number and eventually forms a cancer.
"Virtually every SCC tumour we looked at had almost undetectable levels of this particular gene, so its absence is a very profound driver of these cancers," Professor Jane said.