Melanoma is one of the scariest of cancers. While it may start like less serious skin cancers, this one, often a black irregular growth, can spread throughout the body and it can kill. Too often it does. It may have been that bad case of sunburn you had as a teenager that planted the seeds of melanoma, taking decades to develop.
Over the past many years there has been limited progress in treating advanced melanoma that had spread too much to be cut out with surgery. Mostly it was treated with some very toxic drugs. However, right now some exciting things are happening with melanoma and researchers are quite excited and patients are finding more than hope. Lives are being extended and people are living who had been near death. While it is rare to cure someone from advanced melanoma, two new drugs, one approved and another expected to be approved soon, are zeroing in on the very part of cells that went haywire to cause cancer in the first place. This is high tech biology and immunotherapy – big science finally making tangible progress in a cancer that had been very difficult to treat.
I have been in Chicago at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference - the big meeting of cancer doctors from around the world. That’s where the news has come out about progress in melanoma. One researcher reminded me that they don’t now have a cure, but they are on the hunt for it. It’s tough; the cancer cells are wily and become resistant to cancer killing medicines, but there was measured celebration here as study results came out about the new drugs. A doctor I interviewed referred to the progress as a “home run.”
All this is a real example of progress in fighting cancer generally and melanoma specifically. Of course, nothing beats prevention. With warm weather upon us wearing sunscreen is essential, and maybe a hat too. And the melanoma docs will tell you to avoid staying in the sun during the middle of the day. You can be assured they’d tell you to stay away from tanning beds too. Studies show they are just as harmful.
No one wants melanoma. So limit your risk. But for people who have it, there is new hope.