Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Skin cancer cure closer, say experts

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Massive advances are being made into the treatment of melanoma, with a cure for sufferers of particular forms of the skin cancer on the horizon, experts say.

Also in production is a model that will predict who is most prone to developing the disease.

Local and international experts in melanoma are gathered in Wellington today for a national melanoma summit.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of melanoma skin cancer in the world, and more than 300 people here die of melanoma each year.

It is the most commonly registered cancer in men aged 25-44 and the second most commonly registered cancer in women aged 25-44.

Summit speaker Professor David Elder from the University of Pennsylvania's hospital of pathology and laboratory medicine said a cure for some sufferers was being perfected.

He said the development of a pill that targets melanoma was a "true evolution in therapy".

Results have shown that people on their "deathbeds" have shown dramatic improvements within days of taking the pill, Professor Elder said.

It worked by blocking cancerous sites and "turns off the accelerator", he said.

The treatment was not permanent because the tumour could still escape the inhibitors.

"What's needed is to discover what the mechanisms of resistance on the part of the tumours are and circumvent them. It may be that cocktails of drugs will be needed to be developed or it may be something like immunotherapy, which is stimulating the patients' immune systems may need to be further developed and used in concert," he said.

"But the proof of principal is there that people who are sick and even dying can be brought back to a state of good health for several months and in some cases a few years."

It showed that in the future there would be cures for at least some patients, he said.

However, he said care still needed to be taken in the sun to avoid being burned.

Another speaker, Mary Jane Sneyd, from the department of preventive and social medicine at the University of Otago, has recently developed a New Zealand-specific prediction model to estimate an individual's risk of developing melanoma.

Dr Sneyd's prediction model takes all the risk factors such as skin type, hair and eye colour, sun exposure and family history and puts the information through a rigorous statistical process to estimate an individual's risk of developing melanoma.

More work needed to be done, but she hoped a web-based tool would be ready for health professionals to use in about three years.

Emeritus Professor John Hawk of the St John's Institute of Dermatology in London said the reason New Zealand had such a high rate of melanoma was because of how close it was to the equator.

"The closer you get to the equator, the stronger the UV radiation. We have low levels of pollution and a mild climate in New Zealand that makes it possible for us to stay outside longer than those in very hot countries."

Melanoma

• New Zealand has one of the highest rates of melanoma skin cancer in the world.

• 300 people die of melanoma each year.

• It is the most commonly registered cancer in men aged 25-44.

• It is the second most commonly registered cancer in women aged 25-44.

Tips on keeping safe from the sun's UV rays

• Stay away from sunbeds.

&bull ;Wear a wide-brimmed hat, loose clothing and sunglasses.

• Liberally apply a broad-spectrum SPF30+ sunscreen.

• Reapply the sunscreen 15 minutes after first use and then two-hourly.

- NZ Herald

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