Most of us have known for years that staying out of the sun it one of the best ways to avoid early aging and skin cancer. However, exposure to the sun is not the only factor in skin cancer formation. The two most common skin cancers are squamous and melanoma. Luckily, skin cancer research is ongoing and many advances have been made in understanding causes and treatment options. Still, the best thing is to always use a sunscreen and to see your doctor to check the surface of your skin annually. What may seem like nothing may be a pre-cancerous growth.
1. Does smoking have an effect on skin cancer formation? As “luck” would have it, women who smoke have a dramatically higher chance of developing squamous skin cancer. Squamous skin cancer is less aggressive than melanoma, but still needs to be treated. Researchers are not clear why women who smoke have such a higher risk of this cancer forming than men.
2. What is Trametinib? This is a new drug for treating skin cancer developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GLK). According to the National Cancer Institute “[Trametnib] is for the treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma with BRAH v600E or V600k mutation…” This drug is used with people who have NOT previously tried BRAH inhibitor therapy. It is very good news that there is some hope for people with melanoma, which used to be a veritable death sentence.
3. What do hair follicles have to do with squamous skin cancer? Research at UCLA has yielded an understanding about how tissue-specific hair follicle stem cells can actually promote squamous cell skin cancer. Researchers hope to understand better how stem cell cancer suppression works so scientists can develop preventative skin cancer measures. Hair follicle stem cells have a phase in their cycle where they are not able to initiate cancers. This is called the dormant phase. By understanding this phase, the idea is that squamous skin cancer can be prevented or mitigated. Hair follicle stem cells are the exact adult stem cells that generate hair follicles and they are the cells of origin for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). “The investigators note that understanding cancer suppression through quiescence could provide the development better preventative strategies in patients susceptible to SCC…The findings of this study might also be helpful for preventing other cancers in which stem cells have a quiescent phase.
4. What other drugs are there for skin cancer? Usually basal and squamous skin cancers are noticed early on and treated easily. But when they do spread to other parts of the body, this is when treatment can be difficult, even with chemo or radiation. Scientists know that part of the problem is that cancer cells have too much of the EGFR protein which seems to help them grow. Two drugs that inhibit this protein are Tarceva and Iressa. These are in clinical trials now. Another drug, which goes after other proteins is called Sprycel. It is still under research.
5. What is Moh’s Surgery? This is a skin cancer removal surgery. In this procedure, the surgeon removes the tumor along with a thin layer of skin. He then takes the sample to the microscope and checks to see if there are cancer cells. If he sees cancerous cells, he removes the next layer of skin and so on until no cancer cells are seen. This is a very slow process, taking hours. But the idea is there will be less scaring and a better appearance after surgery. Watch the surgeon in action in this video.
Skin cancer is a serious business. When you think about it, your skin is the largest organ of your body and it is always on the front lines. Do not take this for granted. Be careful and see a dermatologist regularly.
About the author:
Dr. George Schmieder is certified by the American Board of Dermatology, the American College of Osteopathic Dermatology and the American Mohs Society.