It’s unlikely that anyone will remember the first part of this decade for its advances in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer, but considering the groundbreaking preventative measures and growing awareness, perhaps we should!
First, in 2011, the FDA approved a genetic test—the cobas 4800 BRAF V600 Mutation Test—so that doctors can find out if metastatic melanoma sufferers have the gene mutation that certain medications can target. This could ensure that melanoma patients receive the right treatment even sooner than before.
Experts with the FDA continued their attention on skin cancer diagnosis and treatment by approving and skin cancer detection device known as MelaFind. This device creates a digital image of suspicious skin growths and then compares them to a database of thousands of scans of melanoma to look for matches in characteristics of the growth.
The device’s maker reports that this non-invasive test will help doctors decide which skin areas need to be biopsied. And they say the MelaFind can do this when the skin cancer is still its earliest—and most curable—stages.
Another huge advance in melanoma diagnosis happened just this month, as well. Doctors using a type of “3D” technology known as photoacoustic tomography have found a way to look at not just the tumor itself in three dimensions, but also at the surrounding blood vessels. Then tiny, hollow gold particles called nanocages show the differences between the cancerous cells and the healthy cells, allowing doctors to better treat the abnormal cells.
In terms of prevention, perhaps this decade’s most important contribution to fighting skin cancer has been the scrutiny and legislation leveled at tanning bed use. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatricians signaled that it would support legislation that would ban the use of tanning beds or other artificial tanning devices for children because of their link to increased skin cancer risk. Then a survey by the American Academy of Dermatology found that despite studies showing that tanning bed use increases skin cancer risk by as much as 75 percent, young women continue to use the devices, often in addition to outdoor tanning.
One reason for this might be due to studies such as the one published in the medical journal Addiction Biology that suggests using a tanning bed taps into the brain’s “reward center,” a biological side effect of the devices that can actually make them addictive.
Studies and evidence such caused California governor Jerry Brown to ban the use of tanning beds in children and teens aged 18 and younger. Other states—including llinois, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island—have considered similar bans on tanning bed use.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and according to the American Cancer Society, most types of skin cancer – even melanoma—is almost always curable if detected early enough. And the scrutiny being leveled at tanning devices as tanning beds, the development of less invasive and more accurate diagnostic devices, and new medications and targeted treatments can offer us all new hope for preventing, fighting, and surviving this disease.