Doctors finding new ways to battle melanoma

story by Jamie Smith
jsmith@thecitywire.com

Local doctors are utilizing new ways to battle the ever-rising threat of melanoma, a severe form of skin cancer. 

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a study released in 2012 indicates that melanoma among people age 18 to 29 nationally has risen by 800% in the past 40 years among young women and 400% among young men. The drastically disproportionate figures are attributed to the fact that more young women have a tendency to use tanning beds compared to males. 

Dr. J. Thaddeus Beck with Highland Oncology Group said in Arkansas, the five-year change rate melanoma from 2005 to 2009 was 1% each year whereas the cases of breast cancer during the same period fell at almost the same rate.

Other than esophageal cancer, melanoma Is the only cancer to be on the rise in Arkansas, he said. The age of the victims is also decreasing, as more people are being tested but teenagers and young women are more likely to use tanning beds, he agreed.

NOT JUST SKIN
Melanoma also does not necessarily have to be in the form of a visible spot on the skin. He has seen melanoma cells develop behind the eye lid and even on the gallbladder, Beck said.

Jennifer Jones of Pea Ridge lost her mother to melanoma in 2010.

“My mom, Loretta Kelley, was diagnosed with melanoma cancer of the stomach lining right around the first of the year in 2010.We weren't told much about this form of melanoma except that it is a rare kind,” she said. “Most melanoma is found on the skin. The doctor told us that the lining that covers your stomach and organs is a type of skin and that's why it was there. Mom died two weeks after her diagnosis.”

NEW TOOLS
Although Kelley’s kind of melanoma is possible, the cancer is more likely to start topically. A local dermatology clinic has come up with an easy way to get an initial diagnosis.

OnlineDermClinic.com allows smartphone users to confidentially get answers to basic medical questions and upload photos of rashes, bumps, moles and other skin concerns to be reviewed by board-certified dermatologists for a preliminary diagnosis, Dr. Chris Schach with Ozark Dermatology said.

“We’re proud to bring this powerful tool to the market,” Schach said. “Unlike most medical conditions, the diagnosis of skin disease is possible by direct visual examination, and that’s why this online diagnostic tool will work – and work well. That we live in a time where we can embrace technology and patients’ access and ability to use it to assist them in managing their own health care is exciting.”

The service is available to iPhone and Android smartphone users via an app, or via desktop browsers.

In a specialty that is so busy it can take more than a month to get an appointment, this service can either give peace of mind to patients while they wait to see a doctor or help them get an expedited appointment, according to a press release from the clinic.

The site also includes an expansive glossary, a section called “DermaLearn” that has free research tools regarding skin health, and another section called DermaTeach, which is a free video library of patient tutorials.

NEW TREATMENTS
Beck said when patients are referred to Highland, a biopsy of the affected area is first required to confirm cancer then further testing is required to determine the cancer’s stage and its reach into the body. The severity, location and type determine the course of treatment.

There are three potential new treatments that are either part of an ongoing clinical trial at HOG or part of an upcoming clinical trial. Each trial and medicine have their own requirements before a patient qualifies for the trial.

One medicine, Ipilimumab, is a type of immunotherapy known as a monoclonal antibody that activates the body’s own immune system against the cancer.

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Another type of medicine is Vemurafenib and that is a targeted therapeutic agent that kills the driving signals—the “power supply”—from the cancers and they die as a result, Beck explained. It has already been approved for use on melanoma and the clinical trial will determine if it helps other cancers.

A third clinical trial starts in July for another kind of targeted therapy drug.

With the technology and new drugs available in recent years, HOG is able to offer personalized medicine through targeted therapies, Beck said.

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