Mirror health expert Dr Miriam Stoppard reveals there are now drugs that can stop melanoma cells from dividing.
Rates of malignant melanoma in Britain 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, around 14,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma , making it the UK’s 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.
GettyTabletsThere are now new drugs that stop melanoma cells dividing
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.