Life can go on for patients with a deadly form of melanoma.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved what doctors are calling a revolutionary drug treatment for the deadiest form of skin cancer, and the pills are available right now.
The drug attacks a mutated gene found in about half of the cases of melanoma.
The treatment won’t cure the cancer entirely, but it will extend lives, doctors said.
“It’s only working in metastatic melanoma, or melanoma that spreads to different organ groups in the body,” said Dr. Timothy Jochen, a board certified dermatologist.
The drug, Zelboraf, is sold as a pill, and patients are told to take it twice a day.
It’s meant specifically for patients with melanoma tumors having what’s called a BRAF genetic mutation.
Jochen, with Contour Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Center in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, said almost half of all melanoma tumors have that mutation.
He said data shows that the pills will extend life for about two months for most patients.
According to the FDA, studies show the drug improves survival of people with this advanced form of skin cancer by about 63 percent.
“People that had been on the drug for six months, 84 percent of those people were still alive with this drug, versus 64 percent on a traditional form of chemotherapy,” said Jochen.
Melanoma is a painful yet preventable disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 70,000 Americans are disgnosed with it each year.
In 2010, “8,700 people died of melanoma,” said Jochen. “So, it’s a very serious condition.”
Doctors recommend that people get their skin checked regularly and take extra precautions before laying out in the desert sun.
The disease can also be contracted by excessive use of tanning beds.
“Avoid peak hours of sun exposure. Wear sun-protective clothing, hats, and wear your sunscreen,” said Jochen, who also recommends that patients talk to any local dermatologist or oncologist for more information.