Melanoma is a skin cancer that results from the tumor transformation of melanocytes, some of the cells that make up the skin.
The skin is the largest organ in our body. It is made up of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous or fatty tissue.
Vitiligo and melanoma
Skin melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Vitiligo, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that leads to the progressive destruction of the skin’s melanocytes.
However, Vitiligo has been associated with skin melanoma as early as the 1970s.
Most of the antigens recognized by the immune system are present in both melanoma cells and normal melanocytes.
This explains why the autoimmune response against melanocytes that led to vitiligo could also be present in patients with melanoma.
Melanocyte-specific CD8 + T lymphocytes circulating at the edge of active lesions were observed in the majority of patients2.
Leucoma, a whitish clouding of the cornea associated with melanoma, has been observed for some patients.
Some studies have shown that melanoma-associated leucoderma has clinical features distinct from vitiligo. The differences are:
- advanced age of onset
- absence of family history of vitiligo
- equal distribution between men and women
- localization of depigmentation in areas exposed to light
- multiple depigmented spots
The correlation between vitiligo and melanoma is thought to be the consequence of an immune response against the antigens shared by melanoma and normal melanocytes.
Indeed, humoral responses to similar antigens have been demonstrated. Studies show that there is a presence of autoantibodies against melanocytes in 80% of melanomas and 83% of patients with vitiligo.
These antibodies targeted similar antigens at a comparable rate in both diseases.
Furthermore, other scientists showed that autoantibodies isolated from vitiligo patients had a destructive effect on melanoma cells both in vitro and in vivo.