Skin Cancer Research and Trials
Research into treatments and cures for skin cancer are advancing every month. At any one time there dozens of clinical trials testing one new therapy or another.
It can be quite bewildering for someone newly diagnosed with melanoma as some research trials offer real hope while others are more a case of trial and error.
Gene therapy is among the latest techniques now being tested to treat melanoma as well as other cancers. It involves putting selected DNA into cancer cells to produce proteins which cause the cancer cells to die, make them more susceptible to toxic drugs or stimulate the immune system to attack the harmful cells. Although clinical trials are under way this is still very much at the experimental stage and as a possible treatment for melanoma gene therapy is still many years distant.
Immunotherapy is under close investigation at the moment. It involves using proteins naturally produced by the body - interferon and Interleukin-2 - to boost the immune system and attack the cancer cells. Both proteins have been found to shrink the melanoma in stages 3 and 4 - more on treatment.
Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF) is another immunotherapy being trialled together with chemotherapy. It is normally used on a limb that has already been treated for melanoma using a technique called regional limb perfusion. The affected limb has its blood supply isolated for a short time during which chemo drugs and TNF are pumped into the area to destroy the cancer cells. It is very experimental and the jury is still out on its effectiveness.
Antibodies that recognise certain cancer cells are currently being produced in laboratories (antibodies are basically proteins which attach themselves to bacteria or viruses in order to destroy them). Researchers are looking at attaching these antibodies to chemotherapy or radioactive molecules to deliver them straight to the cancer cells in the hope of killing them off.
And then there are cancer vaccines, although research into this is still in the very early stages. Studies are currently under way to discover whether the laboratory-produced vaccines GM2-KLH and QS21 are effective in helping the immune system fight cancer cells. The vaccines are produced by taking melanoma cells from the patient. They are then treated with genes to help produce proteins which are already part of the immune system. The cells are treated again with radiation to stop them growing and injected back into the patient to stimulate the immune system and destroy untreated cancer cells. Initial results in small trials have been promising but the likelihood of a vaccine as a cure is still a long way off.
New advances are being made in chemotherapy drugs. Temozolomide, which is successful in treating brain tumours, is now part of a clinical trial to treat melanoma.
There are always going to be the quack doctors out there offering so called cures and treatments. Trawl the internet and you'll find "miracle" creams made from buffalo testicles claiming to vanish melanomas and pills made from herbal remedies to stop the spread of the disease.
Some people claim these "alternative" remedies work - every advert is accompanied by a glowing testimonial. But health professionals will tell you that such unproven therapies should be treated with caution and conventional treatment should never be stopped suddenly for one of these dubious cure all remedies.