New Immunotherapy Drug for Melanoma Wins Approval

Stephen Hodi, MD

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new type of  immunotherapy drug that will provide a much-needed option for patients with advanced or inoperable melanoma who no longer respond to other drugs – including the immunotherapy agent ipilimumab (Yervoy). The drug, pembrolizumab or MK-3745, will be marketed under the name  Keytruda. Based on impressive performance in clinical trials, the FDA had designated pembrolizumab a “breakthrough therapy” and placed it on a fast-tracked approval process. “This drug is exciting because of its really striking response rate and good indications that these responses are durable” for a least a year, says Patrick Ott, MD, PhD, clinical …

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Can Melanoma Affect Any Skin Type?

Yawkey Center for Cancer Care healing garden.

Melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, gets its name from the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes from which tumors can develop. These cells manufacture the dark pigment, melanin. When a human develops these cells, they populate not only the skin, but also other organs including the back of the eye and the nervous system. Melanin strongly absorbs sunlight and helps to protect the skin from ultraviolet light that damages DNA, which can contribute to the development of cancer. Because people with dark skin have more protective melanin, they are at lower risk of developing melanoma than those with light skin. However, it …

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Five Tips for Staying Safe in the Sun

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As summer heats up, many people will be heading to the beach to escape the hot temperatures. But before you spend time in the sun, Dana-Farber dermatologist, Jennifer Lin, MD, has a few tips to protect your skin and lower your risk of developing skin cancer: 1. Do not use tanning booths Don’t hit the tanning bed for a “base tan” before you hit the beach. Tanning booths contain UVA rays, which can raise the risk for developing melanoma, the rarest and most aggressive form of skin cancer. Getting a base tan won’t stop you from burning at the beach, …

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What are the Most Common Sites for Melanoma?

Yawkey Center for Cancer Care healing garden.

Melanoma, the most severe form of skin cancer, results from an interaction between the genetics of the individual and damage to DNA from external factors. In the case of melanoma, most of the environmental damage is due to exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. The cancer develops in the pigment-producing cells of the skin and can occur elsewhere in the body, including, rarely, inside the eye. In men, melanoma is most commonly found on the back and other places on the trunk (from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck. The most common sites in women …

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ASCO: New Advances in Ovarian, Prostate, Lung and Melanoma Treatment

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“Science and Society” was the theme of this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 50th annual meeting. The meeting showcased  cancer research from around the world. Some new findings from Dana-Farber researchers included: Joyce Liu, MD, MPH, of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers reported that, in a phase 2 clinical trial, a combination of olaparib (a drug that blocks DNA repair in cancer cells) and cediranib (which blocks blood vessel growth in tumors) was considerably more effective in women with recurrent ovarian cancer than olaparib alone.. Progression-free survival – the length of time after treatment when …

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What’s the Difference Between Melanoma and Skin Cancer?

Yawkey Center for Cancer Care healing garden.

Many people consider skin cancer to be synonymous with melanoma. As May marks Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, it is important to understand that melanoma is only one type of skin cancer; other forms of the disease are less aggressive and more common. Melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, with approximately 76,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. It is also the most aggressive, and is most likely to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells in the lowest layer of the epidermis. Possible signs of …

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Melanoma: Five Things You Need to Know

Stephen Hodi, MD

Although skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, melanoma accounts for less than 2 percent of all skin cancer cases. The disease, which will be diagnosed in around 76,000 Americans in 2014, is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, which are found on the lower part of the epidermis. The disease can occur anywhere on the body and usually begins in a mole. “It is important that people protect themselves from the sun and make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of melanoma to greatly reduce their risk of …

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How to Prevent and Manage Lymphedema

Following radiation treatment or surgery to remove lymph nodes (lymphadenectomy), patients can develop lymphedema, a condition that involves abnormal swelling, usually in the arms or the legs, due to an accumulation of lymphatic fluids. This fluid buildup is caused by blockage or removal of lymph nodes or lymph vessels. Lymphedema is often associated with breast cancer patients, but can result from treatment of other cancers, such as melanoma, prostate, or advanced gynecological cancer. In addition to discomfort, lymphedema can also lead to infection, as the fluid buildup can increase bacteria growth. Pay attention to signs of infection, including pain, heat, …

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Research Report: New Treatments for Melanoma

by Richard Saltus As recently as five years ago, progress in treating life-threatening malignant melanoma was slow. Since then, several molecularly targeted drugs have burst on the scene, and new strategies for awakening the immune system to attack the cancer cells have yielded dramatic long-term survival benefits for some patients. “The outlook for patients has never been so good – and we anticipate that in the next year or two it will be much better,” says Louise M. Perkins, PhD, chief science officer for the Melanoma Research Alliance, which funds research on the skin cancer.