Summer brings increased skin cancer risk

As the summer months near, there are some hard facts to face about what the sun can do to you, and what doctors are doing to catch and cure melanoma.

Some say the number of skin cancer cases is growing at an epidemic rate. In fact, melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the U.S.

Every eight minutes, someone in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma.

"Your mind goes all different places, like how is this going to affect my life?" says Megan Brinker, who was told she had stage one melanoma.

"It wasn't anything that looked to me like it was really bad or anything," she says.

Early detection was key. Studies show if caught early, melanoma can be stopped in its tracks. And now, surgery to find it is going 3-D.

"Using our technology, we can see the tumor as well as the surrounding blood vessels," says Younan xia, Biomedical Engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Photoacoustic tomography uses laser light and sound waves to create a 3-D image of the cancer inside the body.

Tiny gold nanocages show a contrast between malignant and normal tissue.

For more aggressive melanoma, doctors are testing a new compound that triggers cancer cells to self-destruct.

"What we manage to do is trick them into thinking they are being attacked or infected by a virus."

Megan was one of the lucky ones. She's not one of the ten-thousand people melanoma kills every year, and these two medical advances could catch and cure even more cases fast.

Researchers believe the 3-D imaging will be invaluable for detecting and treating a variety of cancers, including breast and prostate cancers.

Background: melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the u.s. Melanoma is caused by changes in cells called melanocytes, which produce a skin pigment called melanin. Melanin is responsible for skin and hair color. A scary fact about melanoma is that it can appear on normal skin or start as a mole. Some moles that have been there since birth can turn into melanoma.

Types: there are four major types of melanoma:

Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type. It's usually flat and irregular in shape and color, with different shades of black and brown and is commonly associated with caucasians.

Lentigo maligna melanoma usually occurs in the elderly. It is most common in sun-damaged skin on the face, neck, and arms. The abnormal skin areas are usually large, flat, and tan with areas of brown.

Nodular melanoma usually starts as a raised area that is dark blackish-blue or bluish-red, but some do not have any color.

Acral lentiginous melanoma is the least common form. It usually occurs on the palms, soles, or under the nails and is more common in african americans. Even though melanoma is not as common as other skin cancers, the number of cases is growing at a shocking rate. (source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

Treatment: surgery is usually needed to treat melanoma. The cancer and some surrounding areas are removed in surgery; however, if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other surrounding organs, then the procedure becomes more hazardous. When this happens, treatments may involve chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation treatments. Early detection is important in fighting melanoma. Studies have shown that if it is caught at an early stage, then the cure rate is close to 100 percent.

New technology: surgery is now going 3-d to find melanoma at an earlier stage. It is called photoaccoustic tomography. It combines strong optical contrast and high ultrasonic resolution to produce a 3-d image. The images produced help surgeons see a tumor more clearly and improve contrast between malignant and normal tissues. Tiny gold nanocages show a contrast between malignant tissue and normal tissue (appearing as different colors) (source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

Another new technology for more aggressive melanoma is a new compound that triggers cancer cells into self-destructing. Cancer cells usually go through a process of dying naturally at the end of their lives (called apoptosis), but sometimes they can bypass this process and multiply resulting in tumors. Dr paul hergenrother, from the university of illinois in urbana, and colleagues found that a synthetic compound, called pac-1, was able to activate cancer cells and "trick" them into "committing suicide" . With more testing, doctors think that these two new ways to treat and kill cancer will save many lives. (source: www.eurekalert.org).

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For more information, please contact:

Maria soengas
Director melanoma group
Spanish national cancer research institute
Msoengas@cnio.es

Dr. Younan xia,
Biomedical engineer
Georgia tech
Younan.xia@bme.gatech.edu


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