NEW YORK (CBS 2) — There could be more hope on the horizon for patients with the deadliest form of skin cancer.
This year, nearly 70,000 people will be diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, and it will claim the lives of nearly 9,000 people.
While patients in the final stage of the disease have few options, a new drug is offering hope – and more time.
Though melanoma is surprisingly small, it spreads quite quickly and like many cancers, it starts with a genetic predisposition that is triggered into cancer by something in the environment – usually UV-radiation sunlight.
But it’s the genetics that this new treatment goes after.
Shirley Chance didn’t expect to still be alive. Last year, doctors told her she had final stage skin cancer – the melanoma that started on her arm had spread, and scans revealed tumors in her lungs and brain.
“When I said, ‘What are we talking about?’ He said, ‘Six months to a year,” said Chance.
She underwent radiation treatments, but her prognosis remained grim – until she found out about an experimental drug that showed impressive results.
The drug, which is so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet, had doctors hopeful.
“It’s really the most optimistic time I’ve ever seen for patients with advanced melanoma,” she Dr. Lynn Schucter of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Most melanoma is thought to be caused by overexposure to the sun, although some is just genetic. Either way, the new treatment is offering hope to those suffering from it.
About half of all melanoma patients carry a gene that actually promotes cancer growth. The experimental pill disrupts the gene, causing tumors to shrink.
A new study found the drug was effective in 80 percent of patients who have the gene, working for an average of seven months, giving patients more time.
“Compared to chemotherapy, it works much better,” said Dr. Antoni Ribas of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “And it has less side effects.”
It’s not known how long the drug will work for Shirley Chance, but so far it’s been extremely effect. Her cancer was actually sent into remission.
It allowed her to see the birth of her grandson.
“I used to wake up every day dying,” Chance said. “I don’t do that anymore. I wake up every day living.”
If future testing is successful, the treatment could be on the market in less than two years.