(BPT) - 'You have melanoma.' For many people who hear these words, a deeply personal health journey follows. But one of the most important facts patients and caregivers may learn is that melanoma is not a single disease. It can vary from person to person, often due to genetic changes that are unique to each patient. Doctors use this information to select an appropriate treatment.
If detected early, melanoma is almost always treatable. But if left untreated, it can spread from its original location to other parts of the body, leading to a condition known as metastatic melanoma. At this advanced stage, it is the most serious and life-threatening form of skin cancer. However, recent research has given hope to people living with metastatic melanoma. Certain patients have responded well to personalized therapies, which are treatments tailored to the characteristics of a person's disease.
One of the most common causes of melanoma is damage that occurs to the DNA in skin cells, often due to exposure to ultraviolet light. This damage to the DNA (also called a gene mutation) can cause cancerous tumors to form in the skin. It's important to know that since no two melanoma tumors are the same, selecting a treatment based on specific disease traits can be crucial. A doctor can perform certain tests to determine the specific type of melanoma that a person has.
Research has shown that a gene inside cells known as BRAF (pronounced 'B-RAF') plays a significant role in the growth of many melanoma tumors. In about half of all metastatic melanoma cases, the BRAF gene is changed (or mutated) and causes cancer cells to quickly grow and multiply. This type of melanoma is called 'BRAF positive.' Using a small piece of the melanoma tumor, a gene test can identify whether BRAF mutations are present, providing doctors more information about the cancer. This information can help doctors determine an appropriate treatment.
In recent years, medicines that target BRAF mutations have become available to treat patients living with BRAF-positive metastatic melanoma.
To learn more about treatment options for metastatic melanoma, talk to your doctor and visit www.novartisoncology.com.
Melanoma by the Numbers
* More than 200,000 people worldwide were diagnosed with melanoma in 2012.
* Melanoma will cause about 10,000 deaths in the US this year.
* 62 years is the average age of a person newly diagnosed with melanoma.
* About 50 percent of all patients with metastatic melanoma have changes in the BRAF gene and may be candidates for targeted therapies.
* One treatment may not be appropriate for all types of melanoma.