Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. About 91,270 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018, according to the American Cancer Society. They estimate that more than 9,000 people will die from melanoma in 2018. Melanoma rates have been rising for the last 30 years, but as the incidence of skin cancer increases, so does the research. New discoveries and treatments come out on a regular basis.
"In the past melanoma outsmarted us, but now we’re starting to outsmart melanoma,” says Brian Nickoloff, the director of the Nicholas V. Perricone, M.D. Division of Dermatology and Cutaneous Sciences at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine.
The relatively recent use of immunotherapy and targeted therapy has improved survival rates for some people with advanced melanoma, according to a report in Oncology Times.
- Immunotherapy uses medications to stimulate your immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells according to the American Cancer Society.
- Targeted therapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells while leaving normal cells intact, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation. Because they are targeted to specific tumors, they are more effective and have less side effects than previous cancer treatments.
While these treatments have extended the life of many people with melanoma, it isn’t enough, according to Alexander Menzies from the University of Sydney. Too many people still experience a progression of the disease and die from it.
Researchers are continuing to search for ways to further improve the survival rates of those with advanced melanoma. Scientists at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey may have found one way. The researchers, led by Dr. Todd Schell, discovered that beta-blockers can improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy for melanoma. Beta-blockers are drugs that slow your heart rhythm. People who took beta-blockers in conjunction with immunotherapy had a five-year survival rate of 70 percent, as opposed to 25 percent for those who used immunotherapy without beta-blockers.
Better diagnostic tools
Just as research is improving treatments for advanced melanoma, new techniques in diagnosing melanoma can lead to early detection. When melanoma is found at an early stage, it can often be cured with surgery, according to the American Cancer Society.
One new diagnostic tool is a computer program that detects whether a mole is cancerous and can detect it earlier than a doctor can by sight, according to researchers at the Norwegian Colour and Visual Computing Laboratory.
Another computer-aided diagnostic tool is being developed at the Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. Researchers are working with artificial intelligence programs to detect and categorize skin lesions.
Another medical test that looks at gene expression patterns can help determine if stage 1 and stage 2 melanoma is likely to spread and if it is more likely to return after treatment, according to the American Cancer Society. This test can provide your doctor with valuable information for effectively treating melanoma.
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.
Despite the advances and the new medications, skin cancer remains the most common cancer worldwide, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation. It is the second most common type of cancer in people between the ages of 15 and 29 years old, and for those under 30 years old, the incidence rate is increasing faster than any other group.
Education and awareness need to continue and grow. The dangers of sun exposure and the use of tanning beds have 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.”