Melanoma Testing With Drugs Gives Hope and a Promise

Melanoma Testing With Drugs Gives Hope and a Promise


Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer that affects approximately 135, 000 new cases, which occur each year. Its cause is widely known to those who have been exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun or a tanning bed over a long period of time. The pigment-producing skin cells of the epidermis rapidly form malignant tumors. It is estimated by the American Cancer Society that, in 2015, approximately 31, 200 women and 42, 670 men will be diagnosed with melanomas.

Melanomas often resemble moles and create a pigmentation that is blue, pink, black, purple, brown, red, or match the skin color. Melanoma could be the result of a family history, the number of moles, sun exposure, or the skin type. It was noted as causing the most deaths, however, like other cancers, if detected early, there is a greater chance for it to be cured. The death rate in the United States, on an annual basis, is approximately 9, 940.

A valuable piece of information for everyone is to examine the skin and notice any changes. As far as detecting melanomas, it is advised to be aware of the ABCDE signs. The letter (A) refers to the asymmetrical shape. If the skin lesion in question is somewhat circular and the two halves are not alike, that could be one of the signs for concern. Check the border (B) around this skin marking for uneven edges, note its color (C), and the diameter (D), which will usually be large. The last important sign for melanoma is to be alert to any evolving (E) changes such as color, elevation, size, bleeding, crusting or itching.

In a recent study in Boston at the Melanoma Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, researchers  gathered the results of combining two drugs from 142 patients in a midstage study.  When the drugs, Yervoy and Opdivo, produced by the Bristol Myers Company, were administered, the melanoma  tumors had shrunk by 59 percent and 22 percent of the patients showed no sign of a cancerous condition. The results of this study was brought to the attention of the attendees at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research and shared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The experimentation with different drug combinations has given patients with advanced melanoma a sense of hope and a promise for a cure to this rapid, fatal disease. Another drug test presented at the American Association for Cancer Research and available in the New England Journal of Medicine involved utilizing drugs that cause a supercharge to the immune system. This testing was done in Baltimore at the Melanoma Program at Johns Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In the clinical trials for advanced melanoma, combined drugs were designed for arming the immune system into attacking and destroying the cancer cells. The drugs were given the name checkpoint inhibitors, which proved to surpass the work of the drug, Yervoy, if it were used alone. The checkpoint inhibitor, Keytruda, was given to 834 patients in 16 countries.

The comparison of Keytruda and Yervoy had the following results: those who used Keytruda had a 46 percent successful rate and Yervoy had a 26 percent rate. The survival rates for melanoma over a period of a year were also better for Keytruda, however, that percentage rate depended on the dosage given.

With all the testing using the drug combinations that are giving positive results with melanoma, others cancers may be addressed in a similar manner. Although the drug testing has proven to make significant advancements in cancer research, the cost of the drugs is expensive.

Written by Marie A. Wakefield


Skin Cancer Foundation

The Wall Street Journal

CBS News

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