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A team at Stanford University School of Medicine, in California, found that the immune cells in most melanoma patients fail to respond properly to a molecule called interferon, which normally activates the immune system. This failure to respond to interferon means that the immune cells don't fight off melanoma.
The findings, published in the May issue of the journal Public Library of Science-Medicine, could help in the development of new treatments for melanoma.
Melanoma will kill about 16 percent of the 47,700 people in the United States expected to be diagnosed with this form of skin cancer this year.
These findings help explain why a common melanoma treatment involving prolonged exposure to interferon sometimes helps melanoma patients, said senior author Dr. Peter Lee, associate professor of medicine.