Nobody Should Die from Advanced-Stage Melanoma, Says
Tide is turning in skin cancer battle with more than
100 promising drugs for blocking cancer-causing signaling pathways
Brian Nickoloff is director of the Nicholas V. Perricone, M.D.,
Division of Dermatology and Cutaneous Sciences in MSU's College
of Human Medicine, director of cutaneous oncology at Van Andel
Research Institute and a member of the Stand Up to Cancer Dream
Team. Photo by John Corriveau.
July 16, 2013 - A decade ago there was little
doctors could do to help a patient with advanced-stage melanoma. Now it
seems each week yields important new discoveries about the deadly skin
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and now is by
any measure the most exciting time for melanoma research,” said Brian
Nickoloff, director of the Nicholas V. Perricone, M.D., Division of
Dermatology and Cutaneous Sciences at Michigan State University’s
College of Human Medicine.
In the research journal Laboratory Investigation,
Nickoloff and colleagues outline recent advances that have put melanoma
at the forefront of cancer research, raising hopes that scientists and
clinicians may have cornered the deadliest of all skin cancers.
“In the past melanoma outsmarted us, but now we’re
starting to outsmart melanoma,” said Nickoloff, who also is director of
cutaneous oncology at Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids and a
member of the
Stand Up to Cancer Dream Team for melanoma research.
“Go back 10 years and you’ll see we had almost
nothing to offer patients with advanced disease, but now we’re
definitely getting the upper hand on this cancer.”
Nickoloff was named as a member of the Stand Up to
Cancer Dream Team, which included 49 other top cancer researchers in the
U.S., in December of 2011. .
Stand Up To Cancer, its scientific partner the
American Association for Cancer Research, and the Melanoma Research
Alliance said then the new dream team was to be dedicated to melanoma
Stand Up To Cancer, a program of the Entertainment
Industry Foundation, raises funds to accelerate the pace of
groundbreaking translational research that will get new therapies to
The “Dream Team” approach to funding such research
enables scientists from different disciplines at research centers across
the country and internationally to collaborate on projects geared toward
getting new, less toxic treatments to patients as quickly as possible.
Melanoma is really a catch-all term for the most
virulent types of skin cancer. The disease’s complexity is staggering –
melanoma tumors have more mutations per cell than any other type of
cancer – but new diagnostic tools such as DNA sequencing are helping
scientists sort through troves of data to decode each tumor’s
And while the list of known mutations that cause
melanoma keeps growing, researchers can target most of them by blocking
a handful of the “signaling pathways” that control normal cell function
and can cause tumors to form and spread.
Meanwhile, about 100 new drugs with melanoma in
their sights are in development, and new combinations of drugs show
promise for blocking cancer-causing signaling pathways.
Still, optimism about such progress is tempered by
the fact that someone dies from melanoma every hour. Besides being
deadly, melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers worldwide.
Melanoma also is unusual among cancers in how often it develops in young
people; it is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in 25-
to 29-year-old women. From 2005-2009, however, the median age at
diagnosis for melanoma was 61 years of age and it primarily kills senior
Science’s rapid progress in understanding and
treating melanoma must be coupled with prevention efforts to educate
people about the dangers of sun exposure and artificial tanning,
“It’s entirely preventable,” he said. “Nobody
should die from advanced-stage melanoma.”
Education was part of the goal of the
College of Human
Medicine’s Gran Fondo, a June bicycling event in Grand Rapids
that in its first year attracted 1,500 cyclists and raised about
$100,000 for MSU melanoma research.
Nickoloff said that community support is matched by
an increasingly collaborative research atmosphere in Grand Rapids – his
co-authors on the new paper included Michigan State medical students and
cancer experts from Van Andel and Mercy Health Saint Mary’s – that will
keep MSU and its West Michigan partners at the leading edge of melanoma
“I wish I were 20 years younger, because we’re
going to see more and more long-term remissions,” he said. “We’ll get
better every year we’re at this.”
a form of cancer that begins in melanocytes (cells that make the
pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but
can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as in the eye or
in the intestines.
men and women (44,250 men and 32,000 women) were expected to be
diagnosed with and 9,180 men and women to die of
melanoma of the skin
the median age at diagnosis for melanoma of the skin was 61
years of age.
0.6% were diagnosed under age 20; 6.8% between 20 and 34; 10.7%
between 35 and 44; 18.2% between 45 and 54; 21.6% between 55 and
64; 18.8% between 65 and 74; 16.7% between 75 and 84; and 6.6%
85+ years of age.
age-adjusted incidence rate was 21.0 per 100,000 men and women
the median age at death for melanoma of the skin was 68 years of
age. Approximately 0.1% died under age 20; 2.6% between 20 and
34; 5.6% between 35 and 44; 13.5% between 45 and 54; 19.9%
between 55 and 64; 21.2% between 65 and 74; 24.1% between 75 and
84; and 12.9% 85+ years of age.
age-adjusted death rate was 2.7 per 100,000 men and women per
year. These rates are based on patients who died in 2005-2009 in
Based on rates
from 2007-2009, 1.99% of men and women born today will be
diagnosed with melanoma of the skin at some time during their
lifetime. This number can also be expressed as 1 in 50 men and
women will be diagnosed with melanoma of the skin during their
lifetime. These statistics are called the
lifetime risk of
Sometimes it is
more useful to look at the
probability of developing
melanoma of the skin between two age groups. For example, 0.99%
of men will develop melanoma of the skin between their 50th and
70th birthdays compared to 0.60% for women
On January 1,
2009, in the United States there were approximately 876,344 men
and women alive who had a history of melanoma of the skin -
427,810 men and 448,534 women.