June 30, 2014
New Skin Cancer Strategies and Summer Common Sense
BY Mary Mahoney
New Skin Cancer Strategies and Summer Common Sense
That our own bodies could cure cancer is a stunning proposition, but that was the implication of findings from the 2014 conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
“We are on the verge of being able to manipulate the body’s immune response against cancer so the body itself will take care of the cancer,” said Louis W. Weiner, director of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in a June 3, 2014, article in The Wall Street Journal article that reported on the conference and specifically discussed melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.
According to the article’s authors, Peter Loftus and Ron Winslow, the body would receive considerable help with new immunotherapies from Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Merck. Yervoy and pembrolizumab have increased life expectancy for patients with advanced melanoma on average from one to three years. The drugs can keep tumors under control for longer than other therapies and can even reduce tumor size. Although there are risks for considerable side effects, this development can be potentially great news for melanoma patients.
But there is also some alarming news: Melanoma, though commonly thought of as relatively rare cancer, is now the fifth most common type. On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour. By 2015, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists, one in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime.
Additionally, 3.5 million non-melanoma skin cancers will be diagnosed next year, and the numbers are rising.
Skin cancer overall has become so prevalent that even high-profile celebrities including Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine in the X-Men movies, and talk-show host David Letterman are sharing their stories. Jackman, who had two basal cell carcinomas on his nose, urged viewers of Letterman’s show to “please, please get check-ups.”
But while non-melanoma cancers like Letterman’s and Jackman’s are not life-threatening, the average person really cannot do a reliable diagnosis, since the lesions can look like innocuous beige spots, dry patches or tiny moles. However, the growths can become large and deep, requiring extensive, disfiguring incisions to remove them. Anything on your skin that is new, changing or growing should be examined by a dermatologist. Preventative yearly check-ups are highly recommended. The American Association of Dermatologists now conducts free skin cancer screenings at many locations nationwide.
With summer upon us, what more can we do to prevent skin cancer?
SkinCancer.org cites that 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with ultra violet exposure, i.e.sunlight. But did you know that these types of cancers have risen more than 300 percent since 1994? Clearly we are we are not doing enough to protect ourselves (and our children).
Andrea Waguespack wrote in the Houston Chronicle that “New research found that getting a major sunburn (so bad that blisters develop) just five times before you’re 20 years old can increase your risk of melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, by 80 percent.”
The common-sense rules remain the same: Wear a hat, seek shade, use sunscreen and SPF sun shirts and avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
We are getting sunlight more often than you think. It’s not just the beach. Think backyard barbecues, golf , jogging, yard work, an afternoon of shopping and fishing. An hour here and there adds up to significant exposure.
Additionally, UV radiation passes through the glass windows of cars, offices and homes. It penetrates clouds, too, and only is abated by dense materials. Plus, sunlight reflected off water or snow bounces back onto your skin.
Sunscreen or a moisturizer with built-in sunscreen should be part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth. According to SkinCancer.org, a 2011 study in Australia showed that sunscreen can “drastically reduce” melanoma incidence. Researchers found that daily application of an SPF 16 sunscreen to the head, neck, arms, and hands reduced melanoma incidence by 50 percent in subjects studied for more than a decade.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014 released a much-anticipated safety order on the use of tanning booths, raising the classification to a level II (moderate risk) and requiring labeling that states “the sunlamp product should not be used on persons under the age of 18 years.”
And while you might think many people have been warned about tanning salons by now, youngsters still go in droves. A 2011study by the CDC claims that 29 percent of Caucasian high school girls say they patronize tanning salons.
It’s doubtful that teenage girls immediately will abandon their tanning habits, but we can start warning children – the most vulnerable population –even earlier.
A friend of mine invokes the “seatbelt rule.” Her kids have worn a seatbelt in the car since they were babies. Every time. Most parents agree: Their cars do not leave the garage without everyone’s seatbelts on.
Start your kids early with sun protection as an equally non-negotiable item. Make a kit: Sun shirt, hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. Don’t leave your house without the kit, whether for summer camp, beach or just the yard.
Sure, immunotherapy and other medical breakthroughs show great promise for melanoma and other cancers. But prevention can go a long way for all types of skin cancer. Remind the kids that X-Men’s Wolverine wears sunscreen, too, while we wait for more evidence that the body will cure itself.