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New drugs helping to treat skin cancer.

Rates of malignant melanoma have risen faster than any of the 10 most common cancers, with a lifetime risk of developing melanoma of approximately one in 50 people. This year, thousands of people will be diagnosed with melanoma, making it the fifth most common cancer.

The good news is most people can be cured by their initial surgery. Almost 90% of patients with melanoma survive five years following diagnosis.

But people with a strong family history, fair skin and pigmented moles need to be vigilant and check their moles.

Each case is different but in general with more advanced disease, survival rates are poor. In recent years, however, there have been two developments in treatment for melanoma that has spread or cannot be removed with surgery - targeted therapy and immunotherapy - and they're both promising.

Approximately half of melanomas have the cancer-causing BRAF gene mutation, meaning it can be treated with the latest melanoma drugs. The BRAF mutation results in uncontrolled growth of melanoma cells.

There are now drugs (vemurafenib and dabrafenib) that stop the melanoma cells dividing. Hey presto! Over 90% of patients with the BRAF melanoma respond very quickly to these targeted drugs. This improvement, however, only tends to last between six and nine months and can cause side effects.

But by combining two other new drugs improvement is greater than using a single drug alone.

An important development in melanoma treatment is due to our increased knowledge of the body's immune system and its role in cancer development.

One of the new drugs, ipilimumab, works by stimulating T cells in the body's immune system. Melanoma cells switch the T cells off.

Ipilimumab keeps the T cells switched on and active so they can attack the melanoma cancer cells.

About one in six people respond to ipilimumab treatment and keep responding for a number of years.

Even better, the other new drug type (monoclonal antibodies) destroys the melanoma cells, and better still, prevents recurrence and improves survival.

Despite these recent advantages in treatment, however, once melanoma has spread to distant parts of the body there is, as yet, no definitive cure.

Conquering melanoma means avoiding sunburn and looking out for changes like darkening, redness, spread, and thickening in any moles you have, then seeking immediate attention.

They stop the melanoma cells dividing

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 20, 2016
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