Ongoing Research for Skin Cancer
DNA and skin cancer research
Scientists have made a lot of progress during the past few years in learning how UV light harms DNA. Changes in DNA can cause normal skin cells to become cancer. People who have a strong family history of melanoma should talk to a cancer genetic counselor or a doctor who knows about cancer genetics to discuss the pros and cons of genetic testing.
Advances in research are also being used in staging the cancer. Very sensitive new tests can better find the spread of melanoma to lymph nodes. These tests might help doctors know which patients could be helped with treatments like immunotherapy after surgery. But some doctors worry that this test can sometimes suggest that a person has cancer when they really don't. For now the test is only being used in research studies.
Immune therapy: New ways of boosting the immune system to fight cancer are being studied. Researchers are working on vaccines aimed at making a person immune to his or her melanoma cells. Another method is to train a person's immune cells to attack the melanoma cells.
Other forms of immunotherapy are also being studied. A recent small study showed that treating patients with immune system cells found in tumors could shrink melanoma tumors and possibly prolong life, too. Another study found that a type of white blood cell (T cells) that had their genes altered in the lab could cause tumors to shrink in a small number of patients. More studies of these treatments are being done.
New drugs that attack genes that are not normal are being studied. One example is a gene called BRAF. This gene is changed in most melanoma cells. Drugs that target the activity of this gene are being developed and studied in clinical trials. Drugs that target other gene or protein changes are also being studied in clinical trials.
One of the most promising newer ideas in treating melanoma involves adding certain genes to the cancer cells. There are different ways that adding these genes can help to fight the cancer. Clinical trials testing gene therapy are going on now.