Monday September 12, 2011
Last month, the FDA approved the drug Zelboraf (vemurafenib) for patients with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The drug is designed to work only for late-stage melanoma patients whose tumors have a specific genetic defect known as the BRAF V600E mutation, which is present in approximately half of melanoma cases. The FDA also approved a diagnostic test that determines whether a patient's melanoma cells have this mutation.
The drug is the second to be approved this year for patients with late-stage melanoma -- Yervoy (ipilumumab) was approved last March. These approvals are an important advance, given the dearth of treatment options for late-stage melanoma.
Unfortunately, neither drug is a cure for the disease. Clinical trials have revealed that Zelboraf extends survival by a few months on average, compared with those taking traditional chemotherapy. What's more, it comes with a hefty price tag of about $9,400 per month.
To read more about the initial trials of Zelboraf (originally known as PLX4032) in humans and the path of this drug to market, see this fascinating series of articles by The New York Times reporter Amy Harmon.
Wednesday August 17, 2011
Got a suspicious-looking mole that you're concerned about? There's an app for that. MelApp for iPhone lets you take a picture of your lesion using your smartphone's camera and analyzes it for risk of melanoma. The app could help you to detect melanoma in its earliest stages, when it is most easily cured.
After uploading your image, you'll be asked to answer two simple questions about your lesion or mole. Then the app uses "image-based pattern recognition technology" (which has been validated using a database of images licensed by Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, according to the app's creator, Health Discovery Corporation) to give you an estimated risk of melanoma. The program also allows you to store your pictures and collect them in albums by date, enabling you to review your suspicious moles or lesions for changes that occur over time. Users that receive a "high" risk of melanoma are directed to a nearby physician for follow-up using the smartphone's GPS technology.
While the app is certainly not intended to diagnose melanoma or to replace regular evaluations by your physician, at the very least it may help you to keep better track of your moles between check-ups. And for only $1.99, if it helps get you to the doctor more regularly, then it will be worth it's salt.
Wednesday August 17, 2011
Numerous studies have shown that regular sunscreen use can prevent squamous cell carcinoma, but whether it's useful for preventing other skin cancers, such as melanoma, has remained controversial. New research published in the January 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology provides convincing evidence that sunscreen is indeed effective for preventing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, randomly assigned 1,621 participants to two groups: sunscreen use, or discretionary use (which included no use). The first group was given an unlimited supply of broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 16 and was instructed to apply the product to their head, neck, arms, and hands each morning. Participants were also advised to reapply after bathing, heavy sweating, or prolonged sun exposure. People in the discretionary group were asked to continue using (or not using) sunscreen of any SPF as they always had.
Fifteen years after the start of the study, the researchers found half as many melanomas in the sunscreen group as in the control group (11 vs. 22, respectively), and an even greater difference in the number of invasive melanomas (3 vs. 11).
The results show that you can greatly reduce your risk of developing melanoma by regularly using sunscreen. However, sunscreen use is just one part of a more comprehensive sun protection strategy, which includes wearing a wide-brim hat, sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts and pants.
Source: "Reduced Melanoma After Regular Sunscreen Use: Randomized Trial Follow-Up." Adèle C. Green, et al. Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 29 no. 3, pp 257-263 (2011).
Tuesday April 20, 2010
According to a recently published article in the Archives of Dermatology indoor tanning qualifies as an addiction.
The study surveyed University of Albany, in Albany, NY, college students. Of the 229 responders who have used tanning beds, 39.3% met the criteria for addiction. Those that were considered addicted to tanning showed classic signs of addiction - several unsuccessful attempts to completely stop or cut back on tanning; feeling annoyed when they were told they should stop; and skipping work, school or other scheduled activities to go to the tanning salon.
Slightly of two-thirds of the study participants were female.