Overview of skin cancer treatments, past, present and future

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Published: 11 Sep 2014
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Prof John Hawk - President of the World Congress on Cancers of the Skin 2014

Prof Hawk talks to ecancertv at the XV World Congress on Cancers of the Skin in Edinburgh, UK, about the development and progression of new skin cancer treatments.

I suppose the treatment of melanoma, which has been such an appalling condition and still is if you don’t have it treated, but once it has been missed in the early stages and a steadily growing mole that gets darker and changes shape and perhaps reaches the eraser end of a pencil in size needs to be removed. But a lot of people wouldn’t be bothered about it if they didn’t know about that because it doesn’t cause any other trouble. But once it has got past that level it starts spreading elsewhere and affecting internal organs and that’s what kills people. Now, treatments that… one has been around for a little while now, vemurafenib for example, which turns it off completely but it doesn’t have a permanent effect. But there are a whole lot more of these monoclonal antibody treatments being developed that attack the immune system or the response in different ways and it’s hoped that eventually we’ll get a sufficient cocktail of drugs that once the melanoma wants to escape it gets hit by the next drug etc. etc. That’s something that, say, three to five years ago was not even remotely possible to do. But now there are remarkable remissions from using these treatments although, at the moment, there’s still a relapse in due course.

What about cost?

Most of the new treatments of this sort do seem to be very expensive. Yes, so there’s a large cost involved and the NHS has got a lot of problems with cost. So there are restrictions on who can have what drug and decisions that have to be made which are difficult to take. But at least the drugs are out there and developing rapidly. Some of the pharmaceutical companies that are supporting this exhibition, this conference, are going to be presenting very interesting work along these lines.