While Melanoma Treatments Advance, Prevention Remains Key

Dec 29, 2011 2 Comments by

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, isn’t going away. In fact, The National Cancer Institute previously estimated in 2011 that 70,230 people would be diagnosed with melanoma and 8,790 would die of melanoma of the skin. While two major melanoma treatment advancements have made headlines over the past year, it’s even more important to remember that the best way to fight this disease is prevention.

When caught early, melanoma can usually be cured with surgery alone, but once it metastasizes, treatment options become limited. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for stage IV melanoma is about 15% to 20%. Yervoy™ (Ipilimumab) and Zelboraf™ (Vemurafenib) are two new late stage melanoma fighting drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. Yervoy is the first melanoma drug to receive FDA approval in 13 years. It’s also the first proven treatment to extend overall survival for late stage melanoma patients. “Yervoy may offer many patients a 2-year survival advantage, with a smaller percentage of patients being virtually cured,” claims the Skin Cancer Foundation’s (SCF) report the new drug.

B-RAF

Crystallographic structure of B-Raf (rainbow colored, N-terminus = blue, C-terminus = red) complexed with vemurafenib (spheres, carbon = white, oxygen = red, nitrogen = blue, chlorine = green, fluorine = cyan, sulfur = yellow). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:3OG7.png

According to the SCF, Zelboraf, approved later in the year by the FDA, is the first targeted genetic therapy of its kind to treat advanced metastatic melanoma patients whose tumors have a specific mutation in the BRAF gene that’s present in 40-60 percent of melanomas. While both drugs represent a step towards a cure for melanoma, in most cases, these treatments only extend the life of advanced stage melanoma patients, and a cure for melanoma has yet to be discovered.

Even though melanoma, in particular late stage, is difficult to treat once it occurs, the good news is that skin cancer, including melanoma is preventable in many cases. Over exposure to UVA and UVB rays produced by the sun or artificial ultraviolet light (i.e. tanning beds) can form genetic mutations in the skin, which leaves those who have burned or tanned susceptible to all forms of skin cancer later in life. UV radiation is considered the main cause of nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSCs), including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The SCF says NMSCs strike more than 250,000 Americans each year. Experts also believe UV radiation may also cause melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

By protecting yourself from UV rays (both artificial UV from tanning beds and naturally occurring UV from the sun) and performing routine skin checks, you’ll not only help reduce the incidence of skin cancers, but improve your overall skin appearance and health. Skin sun damage is cumulative, so there is still time to grab a bottle of SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen, a wide brim hat, UV sunglasses and look into adding sun protective clothing to your wardrobe.

Photo credit: anolobb

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