New treatment for aggressive skin cancer

Drug combo blocks metastatic melanoma tumor from spreading


TAMPA, Fla. – Christine Postoian has metastatic melanoma. It's a skin cancer that spreads rapidly and aggressively. She says it's no wonder. She spent most of her life soaking up the sun.

"I'd use baby oil and sometimes you'd add that little iodine to color your skin even further," she said.

The survival rate for metastatic melanoma was eight months, but now it's up to 23 months, thanks to a newly approved FDA combination of drugs. The two drugs are known as BRAF and MEK drugs.

"You're better off today with our new repertoire of drugs than people ever were in the past," explained Jeffrey Weber, MD, PhD, Director, Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

This new drug combo essentially blocks all the pathways so the tumor can't spread.  Weber compares it to a police chase.

"If you're clever, not only do you block the main highway, but you block all the exits and all the other ability of the bad guy to get off the road. In that case you will definitely catch him, because he has no place to go," Weber said.

For Postoian, the new treatment is like a ray of sunshine that hopefully means better health is on the horizon.

The cost of this new treatment is 16,000 a month.

Epidemiologists tell us that sun exposure in the first three decades provide the greatest risk for melanoma.

To prevent melanoma — don't schedule outside activities during 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Wear a wide brimmed hat with sunscreen and make a mole map of your body and keep track of it.

Additional Information:

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults aged 25 to 29 and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 29. In 2009, nearly 63,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma in the U.S., resulting in about 8,650 deaths. Metastatic melanoma means the disease has spread to other parts of the body and is difficult to treat and potentially fatal. It tends to affect those younger in age than other cancer patients. Until now treatments have been limited to single drugs, immunotherapy, and sometimes chemotherapy. The American Cancer Society projects that nearly 77,000 will be diagnosed and 9,500 will die from melanoma this year. (Source: American Cancer Society)

CAUSES: Metastatic Melanoma can start as a freckle or mole. It can develop from increased sun exposure. Some doctors think it develops during the first three decades of life. Preventing the disease can be as simple as staying out of the sun: limit sun exposure during the hottest parts of the day and use SPF 50 liberally when in the sun. (Source: American Cancer Society)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Two new drugs taken every day have proven to block the spread of the tumors. The drugs are called Mekinist and Tafinlar. Dr. Jeffrey Weber compares the new treatment to a police chase: all exits must be blocked to capture the bad guys. These two drugs are used to block all pathways the cancer would normally take to spread, restricting its movement. The drugs, when taken together, have very few side effects, but some include fever and fatigue. The cost of this treatment can be $16,000 a month. (Source: Dr. Weber)