Advancements, new tools in treating Melanoma cancer

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer, because it's more likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma treatments have evolved dramatically in recent years, with even more advances on the way.

Only about one percent of skin cancers are melanoma.

"Unfortunately, melanomas don't need to be very deep before they are a risk to a patient. And we're talking about a millimeter deep," said Dr. Anthony Olszanski, a medical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Dr. Olszanski said deeper melanomas need more than surgery. And immunotherapy and targeted therapy drugs play a growing role.

Immunotherapy unleashes the body's immune system to attack cancer cells. That and radiation helped cure former President Jimmy Carter of melanoma. Targeted therapy drugs go after changes in cancer cells which let them grow and spread.

Surgeon Stephanie Greco is part of clinical trials looking at giving those drugs first, then do surgery, in what's called "neo-adjuvant" therapy.

"That's already employed very frequently for many other cancers like breast cancer and lung cancer and pancreas cancer," she said. "The goal would be to give them something that treats the entire body before surgery, and also could potentially allow us to make the surgery easier."

The research is still underway, but Dr. Olszanski hopes immunotherapy might prove to be a stand-alone treatment.

"We can, we think, actually cure some of these patients even when they come in with metastatic disease," he said.

Dr. Greco is also leading an international study looking at just how much healthy skin must be removed to be safe.

"We actually don't know if one versus two-centimeter margins around the primary site is better," she said.

Both doctors said early detection is key to a cure so check any moles or skin growths for the ABC's: asymmetry, uneven borders, uneven colors, and a diameter bigger than a pencil eraser, and evolution, recent changes.

And contact a dermatologist or your primary care provider if you notice anything.
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