Treating deadly skin cancer

Written by Community Health Network on 5/22/2014 7:00:00 AM

Dr. Sumeet Bhatia is a medical oncologist and a certified MD Anderson Cancer Network® physician.

The most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma develops when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by UV radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.

"Melanoma may be the deadliest form of skin cancer, but when it is diagnosed early, melanoma can usually be cured with surgery," said Dr. Sumeet Bhatia, medical oncologist at Community. "We want to treat this cancer before it spreads (metastasizes) throughout the body to the lymph nodes, lungs and liver. That is usually when I, as a medical oncologist, get involved.”

There are four main types of melanoma and each is found on different parts of the body: 

  1. Areas with no sun exposure, the trunk and thighs
  2. Sun-exposed areas like the top of your head and back of hands
  3. Palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, or under the fingernails or toenails
  4. On surfaces around the sinuses or mouth.

“Not all melanomas have the same genetic make-up and that is why melanomas have been categorized into four distinct types," said Bhatia." The good news is that the FDA recently approved new medical interventions for these types of skin cancer.”

Until recently, only two drugs were approved by the FDA for the treatment of advanced (Stage 4) metastatic melanoma: Dacarbazine, a chemotherapy agent, and Interleukin-2, an immune-boosting therapy.

"Now we also have a drug called ipilimumab, shown to be the first treatment to improve overall survival in advanced Stage 3 or 4 melanoma patients," Bhatia remarked. "As a medical oncologist we look at ways use these treatments in combination to get better quality of life results for our melanoma patients.”

Not only does Bhatia use new medication to treat cancer, but works with dermatologists and plastic surgeons to provide a personalized cancer treatment plan. However, he notes that early detection is key in curing this cancer type.

“The skin damage we get in our lifetime can’t be reversed and contributes the possible development of skin cancer," said Bhatia.

Learn how to perform an at-home skin screening on our website.

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Community is offering free skin cancer screenings in May. Schedule yours now!

Tags: melanoma | Posted in: Dr. Sumeet Bhatia , Skin Cancer

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