Melanoma, the fastest-growing cancer in the United States, affects over 68,000 Americans. In 2010 alone, almost 9000 Americans died from melanoma. Though it is easily treatable when detected early, after melanoma spreads, survival rates drop drastically. Fortunately, the FDA recently approved a new drug to target-treat metastatic melanoma cells. The medication is a huge step forward in oncology and could significantly improve metastatic melanoma survival rates.
Approval for the new drug, Zelboraf, was based on a clinical study involving about 700 patients with late-stage melanoma. In the study, 77% of the patients survived after 8 months, compared to 64% of patients who underwent standard chemotherapy. Furthermore, Zelboraf’s side effects appear to be less harsh than chemotherapy’s, because Zelboraf specifically targets and genes that are unique to skin cancer tumors. Zelboraf is approved for inoperable or late-stage melanoma that tests positive for BRAF gene mutation.
The FDA’s approval of Zelboraf and the study’s results are encouraging indicators that the drug can both extend the lifespan and improve the quality of life of individuals with late-stage melanoma. However, prevention remains the most important tactic to fend off against skin cancer. Avoid sun damage and especially sun burns by wearing sunscreen and protective clothing while outdoors, and by limiting your total outdoor exposure. Also, try to do your outdoor activities before 10 AM and after 4 PM. Be sure to have regular check-ups with your dermatologist regarding any sun damage or irregular moles.
We’ve written before about the importance of protecting yourself from skin damage. Wearing sunscreen, choosing UV-protecting clothing, and staying out of the sun during peak hours will keep your skin as healthy as possible. Likewise, keeping track of moles–particularly those that are asymmetrical, multi-colored, and evolving–is a great technique to help prevent late melanoma diagnoses.
However, just because you do regular mole self-examinations doesn’t mean you should stop seeing your dermatologist. A study recently released by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center indicates that physicians are more likely to find malignant moles that patients overlook, and find them earlier, which means the patient has a better chance of survival. The study shows that physician-found melanomas were up to 40% thinner than their patient-found counterparts, owing largely to the fact that dermatologists are trained to recognize smaller changes and abnormalities.
Of course, the study’s results should not discourage patients from performing regular, detailed self-examinations. Rather, patients should prioritize regular visits to the dermatologists and use self-exams to identify any moles that look abnormal. If you do find a mole that looks irregular, contact your dermatologist immediately: early diagnosis and treatment prevent skin cancer from becoming invasive.
Photo Source: Free Image Works
During the summer, most people are acutely aware of sun damage. Long days outside without sunscreen may result in sunburns, new wrinkles, and possibly even skin cancer. If your next appointment with your dermatologist is months away but you’re concerned about possibly abnormal moles, check out the new Skin Scan app for iPhones.
Skin Scan is a $4.99 app that “scans” moles and lesions to detect if they are low-risk, medium-risk, or high-risk. The app uses an algorithm to examine the skin surrounding the mole and the mole itself to determine if the mole is an abnormal shape, size, or color. You can also track moles with the app; a mole that changes size, shape, or color could be an indication of melanoma or other skin cancers.
Skin Scan also includes another interesting feature: location mapping. When a mole is deemed low-, medium-, or high-risk, the location of the user and the results are recorded and mapped. Depending on the sample size, Skin Scan may eventually produce a fairly accurate map depicting what locations are the most dangerous in terms of skin damage from the sun.
Like most new developments in the medical and dermatological field, Dr. Zimmet urges patients to download the app with a grain of salt. It’s important to beware of false negatives, where the scan reads a normal mole that is actually not normal. Unless we understand the rate of false negatives, determined in a well-controlled study, it’s critical not to rely on the results of the scan when deciding whether or not you should see your dermatologist. So, it’s strongly advised that you have regular check-ups with your dermatologist, even if you believe that none of your moles are abnormal.