The Sun is our source of life and for some, our source of death. The Sun provides our light that fuels plants to grow and produce most of our food. Plants also produce most of the oxygen we breathe, thanks to the miraculous process of photosynthesis.
However, being out in the Sun on a regular basis may also be the likely source of skin cancer. Some sources say that exposure to the Sun accounts for as much as 80%-85% of the cases of skin cancer.
The National Cancer Institute estimate that this year (2017) there will be around, 3,000,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer plus nearly 69,000 new cases of melanoma. Of the 3,000,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer, only about 2,000 will die each year, but of the nearly 69,000 new cases of melanoma, almost 10,000 will die.
There are three types of non-melanoma skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and Merkel cell carcinoma. Although the non-melanoma types of skin cancer account for the vast majority of skin cancer diagnoses, they are the most curable and survivable. Melanoma may only account for 1% of all skin cancers, it has the highest mortality rate. The Skin Cancer Foundationstates that someone in the United States dies every 54 minutes from melanoma.
In addition to the exposure to the Sun being a risk factor for developing skin cancer including melanoma, tanning beds have also been linked as increasing a person’s risk of developing both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Some countries such as Australia and Brazil have banned all indoor tanning. At least 11 other countries have banned indoor tanning for anyone under the age of 18.
Again, knowing your body is key to detecting the signs and symptoms of melanoma. Many sources, including the American Cancer Society tell people use the ABCDE rule. They define it as:
- A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
- B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
- C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
- D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
- E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Qualified doctors, especially dermatologists, can often detect melanoma and other skin cancers by an examination of the skin. Sometimes a biopsy is necessary. Like many other cancers, the standard treatment for melanoma may involve surgery, but generally tend to use either or both, radiation and chemotherapies.
The problem with many of the standard chemotherapies is they not only kill the cancer cells but can and do kill off surrounding healthy tissue, plus they can be toxic to the body, making the patient quite ill.
However, researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania appear to have made a breakthrough with a new type of chemotherapy. Rather than get into the deep technical jargon, they have found a way to modify a compound that has been quite toxic to the patient in the past and make it less toxic. Additionally, their new drug appears to target just the melanoma cancer cells without harming surrounding healthy cells.
In traditional chemotherapies, the drugs used usually only work on the BRAF mutant melanoma cells, but not the BRAF wild type melanoma cells. This often results with the melanoma returning in 6-months to a year. The new compound was found to target both types of Melanoma cells, resulting in a higher success rate and fewer recurrences of the deadly cancer.
In laboratory tests, their new compound reduced melanoma tumors by 69% by causing the melanoma cells to die off. The researchers are hopeful that their breakthrough may also work on the other cancers or in developing drugs to work better to treat other cancers.
The new compound still has to go through further testing before it will be approved by the FDA, but if approved, it could drastically reduce the high mortality rate from melanoma.