Whether it’s a quick beach getaway to escape the snow or an upcoming spring break, long gone are the days of basking in the sun without a care. As science and epidemiology have evolved, we are now all too aware of the sun’s harmful rays and the damage it can do, especially among people with light-colored skin. But the truth is that no one is truly immune. Skin cancer accounts for half of all cancers in the U.S. Although the vast majority are due to exposure to the sun or ultraviolet radiation (for example, tanning beds), there are other causes as well.
Most skin cancers are found early and can be cured. But skin cancer can spread to other organs or distant tissues. Once the cancer has spread or metastasized, it’s a different story.
Of all skin cancer, melanoma is the most likely to become metastatic and, until recently, the picture was fairly grim. But, with several recently approved drugs – the first new treatments in over a decade – it means some people with metastatic melanoma are living longer and better than ever.
“We are in a sense rewriting history and changing the way advanced melanoma is treated because of improved survival and outcomes in some patients on newer treatments,” says Dr. Tara Gangadhar, Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
Although new treatments are advancing quickly, nothing is a home run yet. Experts and advocates say it’s critical to find a doctor who specializes in a person’s specific skin cancer. Clinical trials, which test new treatments or a combination of treatments, may be an option for many people, especially those with metastatic disease, so it’s important to learn about all of the treatment options before deciding what the right path is for you. Some treatments can make someone ineligible to participate in a study.
Of course, each person living with Stage IV melanoma or other skin cancer has his/her own story, and may respond differently to various types of treatment. Still, people with metastatic disease often share similar concerns. For example, they typically:
- Worry about how treatments will affect them, their families and their ability to fulfill their roles at home and work
- Need greater emotional and spiritual support
- Face hardships when it comes to paying for care or securing disability or life insurance
- Are fearful about what the diagnosis means and if the recommended treatment will actually work
It’s easy to become overwhelmed. But there is help and support.
The Cancer Support Community is launching new resources to give patients and caregivers access to credible, evidence-based, medically reviewed information and resources about metastatic melanoma and advanced basal cell carcinoma – two very different skin cancers. Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Advanced Skin Cancers includes up-to-date online content, advice from others, fact sheets and resources. It reviews the latest treatment options, possible side effects, questions to ask your health team and things they need to know throughout your care, as well as steps you might consider to better cope with the disease. To order a free fact sheet about metastatic melanoma or advanced basal cell carcinoma, or to find out more, visit https://orders.cancersupportcommunity.org/.