A new study has helped to reveal the genetics behind melanoma skin cancer and could eventually lead to new forms of skin cancer treatment.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK.
Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, funded by the charity Cancer Research UK, have now discovered that a gene called BRAF is a driving force behind melanoma and represents the first in a series of genetic changes that eventually trigger the disease.
They believe that up to 70 per cent of melanoma skin cancers may be triggered by damaged or altered versions of BRAF.
Commenting on the findings, which are published in the journal Cancer Cell, lead author Professor Richard Marais said: "Our study shows that the genetic damage of BRAF is the first step in skin cancer development.
"Understanding this process will help us develop more effective treatments for the disease."
According to Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, skin cancer is the seventh most common form of cancer in the UK.
Dr Walker noted: "A better understanding of the genetics of skin cancer can help scientists develop more targeted drugs with fewer side-effects to treat the disease."