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Good News for Melanoma Patients

May 18, 2016
Woman applying sunscreen

There is good news for melanoma patients. New treatments are improving skin cancer survival rates.

“It’s an exciting time for doctors and their patients. Today we have newer treatments to help improve the survival rate for those with advanced metastatic melanoma. We can look for specific genetic abnormalities and there are now pills available that can benefit those patients with certain mutations in the melanoma cell. We also have medicines that can activate the immune system to attack the melanoma cells,” says Dr. John McCann an oncologist with the Baystate Regional Cancer Program.

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the U.S. More than 5.4 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed each year. Some 76,380 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will be diagnosed this year.

Anyone can get skin cancer from sun worshippers to outdoor workers, and it doesn’t matter whether you are light or dark skinned. Just ask Tracy Mastorakis.

Mastorakis, who moved to the area some 16 years ago from sunny Southern California, had been a sun worshipper for most of her early life. “The speculation is that my extensive sun exposure resulted in my two melanomas. I was outdoors a lot and loved having a tan. My first visit to a dermatologist was at age 14 when I was diagnosed with basil cell cancer. The doctor told me that I was way too young for this, but I was young and didn’t heed his words,” Mastorakis says. (Read Tracy’s story.)

Melanoma Prevention & Early Detection

“Many skin cancers can be prevented by simply refraining from sun worshipping and avoiding tanning beds, to which there is a definite link for an increased risk of melanoma from the ultraviolet radiation they give off. Early detection is one of the best ways to cure melanoma,” says Dr. Richard Arenas, chief of Surgical Oncology for the Baystate Regional Cancer Program.

He says people should examine their skin from head-to-toe every month and see their physician every year for a skin exam.

Melanoma is most often found in men between the shoulders and hips, and on the head and neck. Women often develop melanoma on the lower legs.

Look for changes in moles – those that are larger than normal, variable in color, and have irregular borders – as well as warts and other blemishes on the skin, especially those parts exposed to the sun.

Melanoma Clinical Trials

“We are currently looking at new medications that activate the immune system and that hopefully are going to be more effective in preventing the recurrence of melanoma by specifically targeting one part of the immune system,” says McCann.

Baystate Medical Center recently opened a clinical trial evaluating a newer medication in patients with resected melanoma.

Baystate also offers clinical trials for advanced melanoma, testing the newest immune therapies with other medications targeting the biology of the melanoma. For more information, contact Betsy Lopez in Oncology Clinical Trials at Baystate at 413-794-4154.