Mucosal melanoma is a rare form of melanoma, making up only about 1% of melanoma cases. As with other areas of the skin, melanocytes, the pigment producing cells of the body, are also present in the mucosal surfaces of the body, lining the sinuses, nasal passages, oral cavity, vagina, anus and other areas. Just like melanocytes in other parts of the body, these can transform into cancerous cells, resulting in mucosal melanoma.
Approximately 50% of mucosal melanomas begin in the head and neck region, 25% begin in the ano-rectal region and 20% begin in the female genital tract. The remaining 5% include the esophagus, gallbladder, bowel, conjunctiva and urethra.
Unlike most cases of melanoma of the skin, mucosal melanoma is not considered to be related to or affected by UV exposure. Additionally, there are no obvious identified risk factors, not even family history. Lacking an identifiable culprit and given its rare occurrence, most cases of mucosal melanoma are quite advanced once identified, giving it a poor prognosis.
Melanoma is typically classified by clinical characteristics, such as depth, ulceration and site of origin. However, in the past several years, mutations in certain proteins are allowing scientists to further define the melanoma at the molecular level. The most common mutation in mucosal melanoma is found in a protein called KIT. The changes in the KIT protein play an important role in tumor growth and the development of possible treatment options. The BRAF mutation, found in cutaneous melanoma, or melanoma of the skin, is rarely found in mucosal melanoma.
The MRF would like to recognize and thank The Susan Fazio Foundation for Melanoma Research. This foundation continues to raise funds dedicated to the research of mucosal melanoma. Please visit their website to learn more about mucosal melanoma.