The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal

MAY 2015

The 2012 edition of The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal features medically reviewed, reader-friendly articles such as tanning, the increasing incidence of skin cancer diagnoses among young women, & the prevalence of melanoma among white males over 50.

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7 P R E S I D E N T ' S ME S S A G E | 2 0 1 5 J O U R N A L "Thanks to major findings in the molecular and genetic makeup of melanoma, we are in the midst of a thrilling revolution in treatment for advanced disease." PERRY ROBINS, MD Founder and President, The Skin Cancer Foundation An important thing to remember about medical research is that breakthrough cures are rarely developed overnight. Melanoma is a case in point. From before the time I entered medicine more than half a century ago until just the past few years, advanced, Stage IV melanoma was a death sentence for the vast majority of patients. Treatments – of which there were woefully few – at best gave patients a few extra months of precious life, with little hope to sustain them. In fact, until 2011, scientists had gone more than a dozen years without a single new drug approved to treat the disease. A few short years later, all of that seems like ancient history. Thanks to major fi ndings in the molecular and genetic makeup of melanoma, we are in the midst of a thrilling revolution in treatment for advanced disease. Two classes of drugs, targeted therapies and immunotherapies, have made the difference. In 2002, scientists in England discovered a gene called BRAF that was defective in more than half of all melanoma patients; normal BRAF regulates the growth of skin cells, but the defective version causes out-of-control, cancerous cell growth. Scientists felt that if they could just fi nd a way to "target" and block this defective gene, they could halt many melanomas in their tracks. Nine years later, in 2011, a drug was approved that did just that, and since then, other related drugs and combinations of drugs have been approved, keeping many patients alive for months or even years longer. Even greater success is being achieved with the class of medicines known as immunotherapies, drugs that boost the immune system. For decades, scientists strove for ways to harness the immune system to fi ght melanoma, facing countless near-misses, frustrations and disappointments. But in just the past few years, the y have found several ways to enhance the ability of the T-cells (white cells that are the cornerstone of the immune system) to attack melanoma and other cancers. Since 2011, three key new immunotherapies have been FDA- approved, and today, many melanoma patients being treated with them are surviving 10 years and counting – patients who formerly would have survived mere months. Building on all this success, many more exciting therapies are waiting in the wings. Scientists are convinced that we are at the dawn of an era when advanced melanoma will cease to be a lethal disease, but instead a chronic one that can be managed over time, keeping patients alive and healthy into the distant future. Our heart goes out to every patient for whom these treatments came too late. But we are elated for the generations to come whose lives will be saved. PERRY ROBINS President, The Skin Cancer Foundation N S K I N C A N C E R F O U N D A T I O N

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