Breakthroughs in medicine are occurring at a more predictable rate in the 21st century. This is due to technology and also the glut of information that is due to decades of research in the area of biology and medicine. Still, there are some medical conditions and illnesses that still puzzle the medical community and the public. One of these is melanoma a type of cancer.
This study will look into the basic definition of this sickness. This paper will also address the current status and future standing of the illness and provide information as to what will be the next possible steps in curing the disease and the future of melanoma treatment.
This disease is a type of skin cancer but it is not just an ordinary kind of cancerous growth but it is actually, “…the most serious type of skin cancer” (Melanoma.com, 2007). The main cause of melanoma is too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation such as in the case of sun bathers and those who just crave to have that bronze look and then go lie under intense UV rays courtesy of tanning booths.
This type of disease is prevalent because this is a nation of sun worshippers, meaning people in this country just love to bask under the ultraviolet glow of sunlight just to get that much sought after tan. Now, melanoma is on the rise and the faster growing cancer in the United States of America.
It is a serious problem not just because of its frequency but also because it is very aggressive. In fact, “The median survival of patients is generally limited to 6 t 10 months, and it has not been significantly improved since the 1970s” (University of Michigan Health System, 2007).
But according to the National Cancer Institute (“NCI”) this type of cancer can also occur in the eye and is called intraocular or ocular melanoma (NCI, 2007). But the organ of choice – so to speak – for the disease is the human skin which is the largest organ of the human body. It is not only because of the large surface area but more on the fact that melanoma develops first in the skin cell called melanocytes.
Melanocytes are skin cells found in the skin that is in charge in the production of melanin. Melanin’s main purpose is to give skin its color and explains why those who live in different environs e.g. too much sun, have a different skin color than those who only receive minimal amounts of sunlight throughout the year.
Another major purpose of melanin is to protect deeper layers of the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet or UV rays. Due to prevalence of the disease in those who love to get deep tan lying motionless in beaches or those frequenting tanning booths there is a consensus that too much exposure to UV light is the major cause of melanoma.
When a person spends a considerable amount of time under the sun, melanocytes are worked into a frenzy – they work extra hard to produce melanin. This increased activity when done frequently causes this particular cell to suddenly behave abnormally. When this happens, Stage 1 cancer has already occurred. Yet, no one has been able to pinpoint the exact mechanism or the exact chemical process that cause this abnormality. The dermatology research team in the University of Michigan asserts remarked that, “The identification of the molecular basis of melanoma progression […] are largely unknown” (Soengas, 2007).
In the early stages of melanoma, it is highly treatable but there are limited options for those who are already in the advanced stages (Medical News Today, 2007). There are bigger problems when it concerns this illness. Reacting to the aforementioned poor prognosis of those who are in the later stages of the disease, the University of Michigan research team gave the following findings, “A main contributor to this poor prognosis is an extreme resistance to standard modalities of anticancer treatment, ranging fro immuno, to radiao or chemotherapy” (Soengas, 2007).
There are exciting developments though and one could be found in the laboratories of The Wistar Institute, an independent nonprofit biomedical research institution dedicated to discovering the causes and curse for major diseases including cancer. One of their researchers discovered that a substance called peptide exists in approximately 70 percent of melanomas but not in normal cells. Dorothee Herlyn the main proponent of this novel vaccine approach used the peptide to stimulate T cells in the body to attack the melanoma cells. Herlyn found out that a substantial proportion of melanoma patients, about 50 percent have killer T cells responding to the peptide and is very optimistic that in due time this new approach will be able to treat at least one third of all melanoma patients (Medical News Today, 2007).
As mentioned earlier there are is still no hard evidence that will point to the exact cause of the disease on the molecular level. So far what is ascertain is the fact that too much exposure to UV rays are causing the melanocytes in the skin to grow abnormally and then becomes cancer causing.
Prevention of course is better than seeking more expensive and emotionally draining cure especially when it comes to cancer. So experts suggest decreasing the amount of time under the harsh elements of the sun’s rays. Also, there is a serious need to be conscious of protecting one self from ultraviolet rays and this includes sun screen lotions, hats, working under the shade etc.
But when cancer has already set in medical professionals are needed on the scene. There are at least four (4) major types of treatment (National Cancer Institute, 2007):
- Surgery – This includes removing the melanoma or removing cancer cells and some of the normal tissue around it. Lymphadenectomy is also an option wherein the lymph nodes are removed. Skin grafting is also part of this type of treatment.
- Chemotherapy – Cancer drugs are taken orally or injected into a vein so that it can enter the bloodstream and kill cancer cells. But due to the fact that melanoma is in the skin, basically outside the internal organs of the body this common cancer treatment has to be modified. The technique is called “hyperthermic isolated limb perfusion” where the flow of blood from the limb is inhibited through the use of tourniquet and thus anticancer drug can be put directly into the blood of the limb.
- Radiation Therapy – There are two types of radiation therapy – internal and external radiation therapy where the former uses high-energy x-rays while the latter uses radioactive substances sealed in catheters and then placed near the affected areas of the body.
- Biologic Therapy – This type of therapy finds ways to boos the body’s immune system so that it can fight the disease.
There are also new types of treatment being tested in clinical trials. One is the aforementioned radical technique developed by Dorothee Herlyn of The Wistar Institute where she was able to coax T killer cells to attack melanoma and what a novel approach indeed.
Medical News Today. “Melanoma Research Progress Suggests Optimism for Future Cures.”
Available from < http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=45539&nfid=rssfeeds> Accessed [20 April 2007].
Melanoma.com. “What is Melanoma?” Available from <http:www.melanoma.com>
Accessed [19 April 2007].
Soengas, Maria. “Molecular Basis of Melanoma Progression and Drug Resistance.” University