Outsmarting Melanoma

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, almost 80,000 new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2013 with over 875,000 people having a history of melanoma. One person dies from melanoma every hour. But as the incident rate of skin cancer increases, so does the research. New discoveries and new medications come out on a regular basis. “In the past melanoma outsmarted us, but now we’re starting to outsmart melanoma.” [Brian Nickoloff - 1]


    A new study by Cancer Research UK shows that more people today are beating skin cancer than ever before. In the 1970s, the survival rate once melanoma was diagnosed was only around 50 percent - with only 38 percent of men and 58 percent of women surviving for 10 years. Today those numbers are much higher - 80 percent of men and 90 percent of women now live more than ten years after their initial diagnosis of melanoma. [2] According to the charity that completed the study, this increase in mortality rates is due to increased awareness, earlier diagnosis and better treatments.

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    Better Diagnostic Tools


    New tools, such as DNA sequencing, are helping scientists to discover what makes a tumor unique. Based on this information, tumors can be targeted by “blocking the ‘signaling pathways’ that control normal cell function and can cause tumors to form and spread.” [3]


    Another tool, used at the University of Connecticut Health Center, is called the MelaFind, and allows dermatologists to “see below the skin, evaluate lesions in 3D imaging and determine if a biopsy is needed.” [4]


    These are just a few of the advances being made in diagnosing skin cancer. Tools such as these allow doctors to track the growth of any lesions, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment. Early detection and treatment has been shown to improve the chances of recovery and increase survival rates.


    Treatment


    Treatment has also advance over the past several decades. Dr.Nickoloff states, “Go back 10 years and you’ll see we had almost nothing to offer patients with advanced disease, but now we’re definitely getting the upper hand on this cancer.” New medications, such as vemurafenib, have been shown effective. Combinations of different medications are also being used to treat skin cancer. Even with the current list of medications more effective than previous treatments, there is more (and better) on the horizon. Medical News Today reports, “About 100 new drugs with melanoma in their sights are in development and new combinations of drugs show promise for blocking cancer-causing signalling pathways.” [5]


    Not Enough


    Despite the advances and the new medications, skin cancer remains one of the fastest growing cancers worldwide and is the leading cause of cancer related deaths in women between 25 and 29 years of age. The Skin Cancer Foundation indicates that between 2970 and 2009, the incidence of skin cancer among women increased by 800 percent and among men, 400 percent.


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    Education and awareness, while continuing to grow, needs to be continued. The dangers of sun exposure and the use of tanning beds has been well documented. With simple steps, such as always using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing, the deadly results from being in the sun can be greatly reduced. According to Nickoloff, “It’s entirely preventable, nobody should die from advanced-stage melanoma.” [6]


    References:


    [2] “More People Beating Skin Cancer - UK Report,” 2013, July 25, Catharine Paddock, Ph.D., Medical News Today


    [1] [3] [5] [6] “Rapid Progress in Understanding and Treating Skin Cancer,” 2013, July 19, Staff Writer, Medical News Today


    [4] “Seeing Below the Skin: Advanced Tools to Diagnose Cancer,” 2013, Jan 4, Maureen McGuire, UConn Today


    “Skin Cancer Facts,” 2013, Staff Writer, Skin Cancer Foundation


Published On: July 28, 2013