Major advancements in the treatment of melanoma
Considered the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma carries the largest concern to patients and physicians of any type of skin cancer due to its ability to spread and metastasize. When detected early, melanoma removal has a very high success rate. Survival rates fall dramatically once the disease has spread to other parts of the body. The emergence of new therapies is particularly exciting news in the melanoma research community, where promising treatments have previously been limited.
Early detection and removal is still the best course of action, which is why we encourage our patients to get yearly skin exams. Surgical removal of early stage melanomas often results in a complete cure.
Once a melanoma deepens and becomes more aggressive, the chances of spreading increase, which can lead to death. Up until 2011, the standard treatment for advanced melanoma had been chemotherapy, which can shrink melanoma in about 10 to 15 percent of patients, but has never been shown to improve overall survival rates.
In recent years, mutations in the natural series of chemical reactions occurring within a cell-the enzymatic pathways- of melanomas have been discovered. One drug, vemurafenib, is a targeted therapy that’s directed at this specific gene mutation associated with melanoma. By targeting this mutation, vemurafenib is able to shut down the pathway and reduce the size of the melanoma, which can extend a patient’s survival.
In addition, a set of enzymes that promote cell division and growth has been discovered, with subsequent medications developed to counteract these enzymes.
Yet another medication is being studied that can boost the immune system to target cancer cells continuously. Approved by the FDA in March 2011, yervoy, is an immunotherapy medication which has extended survival among patients with advanced melanoma in two separate studies.
These advancements in understanding melanoma and the subsequent treatments are exciting, but the fight is far from over. Remember to do a self-skin exam on your birthday and have your skin examined yearly by your dermatologist. Watch this important message from the American Academy of Dermatology.
“Time” is a 60-second PSA that asks young women to stop tanning because melanoma is the second most common cancer in young adults 15 to 29 years old.