Monday, March 28, 2011

New Skin Cancer Drug Sparks Hope

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced the approval of a new drug to fight melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. The drug, named Yervoy, is the first new medication approved in the treatment of skin cancer in 13 years.

Yervoy, a product of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., shows promise in prolonging the lives of those with this sometimes deadly form of skin cancer. And although the drug is a scientific breakthrough in the treatment of a cancer that demonstrates resistance to treatment, mild optimism is warranted. The drug is a treatment, not a cure, for melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body.

In the study trials leading up to Yervoy's approval, only worked on a small number of participants. For those whose condition responded to treatment, life was extended an average of four months over participants who were receiving older medication treatments.

An average of a four month life-extension may not seem like much, unless you are one of those facing death. Four more months with loved ones and an opportunity to get your affairs in order must seem golden to anyone with metastatic melanoma. And four more months means there's an opportunity for a new breakthrough.


Melanoma is often a type of skin cancer, but it can also develop in the eye, digestive tract, brain or spinal cord, or any place where melanocyte cells are found, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Melanocytes are cells that produce pigment. Because moles are areas on the body with high pigment, they can sometimes be the origination point of melanoma. For this reason it is important to check with your health care provider if there is any change in a mole.

This type of cancer spreads quickly to the lymph system and often to the liver, brain, lungs and bones.

The Melanoma Research Foundation reports that 1 in 50 Americans will develop melanoma at some point in their lifetime. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 8,500 American men and women died of melanoma of the skin in 2010.

Risk Factors for Melanoma

Sunburn is the number one controllable risk factor associated with the development of melanoma. A family history of the disease increases your own risk. If you've ever had melanoma in the past, or other forms of skin cancer, you are at increased risk to develop melanoma. If you have 50 or moles on your body, you are at an increased risk. People with fair skin, light hair and light eyes have more risk of developing melanoma than darker skinned people.

Prevention of Melanoma

Melanoma of the skin is far easier to prevent than it is to treat, especially if the cancer has spread beyond the skin. Prudent use of adequate sun-screening products is necessary when exposed to the sun. Wearing brimmed hats and sunglasses when outdoors is a good precaution.

If you have other risk factors for this disease, it is a good idea to consult your health care provider.

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