Entries in Skin Cancer (33)


Researchers Urge Against Use of Indoor Tanning

Cultura/Liam Norris(NEW YORK) -- More than one million people visit tanning salons in the United States every day.

Many of those that do use tanning salons are teenage girls. According to an article in the journal Pediatrics, 35 to 40 percent of white adolescent girls use indoor tanning devices. The article points out that artificial tanning increases the risks of skin cancer. The increased risk includes risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, and a common cancer among adolescents and young adults.

The average U.S. city has more tanning salons than Starbucks or McDonald's locations.

The rate of melanoma in women age 15 to 39 more than doubled between 1973 and 2004, according to the article. According to the authors, 25 percent of melanoma diagnoses may be attributable to tanning beds. The article also urges pediatricians to discuss the dangers of the life-threatening practice with families.

Researchers also suggested spray tanning as a potential alternative which does not include the same health risks as tanning beds.

President Obama's health care overhaul implemented a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning in 2010. Several states and medical organizations have moved to ban minors from tanning in tanning salons.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Smartphone Apps Can Fall Short in Detecting Skin Cancer, Study Finds

(PITTSBURGH) -- Relying on health-care smartphone apps to detect skin cancer can postpone diagnosis and cause harm, a new study has found.

When researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center tested four popular apps for detecting melanoma -- the most serious form of skin cancer -- they found that on average three of them incorrectly classified 30 percent or more melanomas. The findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association-Dermatology.

Of the 188 moles the researchers studied, 60 of them had already been diagnosed as melanoma by a board-certified dermatologist. The study found that the accuracy of the apps varied drastically -- the best-performing apps diagnosed cancerous moles correctly 98.1 percent of the time, while the worst-performing detected melanoma only 6.8 percent of the time.

Typically, in employing these apps, users photograph the skin lesions they would like analyzed, and the app generates a response.

"Patients do bring these in and ask about them," Dr. Darrell Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, told ABC News. "I tell them that the difference between these and 'real' in-office melanoma diagnostic devices is the difference of a toy car versus a real car. One you play with, and the other works."

The app with the highest sensitivity for melanoma detection, the study found, did not use automated algorithms to analyze the images. Instead, the images were sent to board-certified dermatologists, and users received a diagnosis within 24 hours.

None of these apps, though, are not subject to regulatory oversight, and although disclaimers state they are for educational purposes only -- to help users track their lesions, for example -- dermatologists worry that people, particularly those who are lower-income and uninsured, might substitute the apps' findings for medical advice.

"It is very concerning that these apps are used for diagnosis by patients, as it could lead to delay in diagnosis of melanoma, the cancer which is perhaps the most critical in early diagnosis being important for survival," said Rigel.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has responded to the explosion of health-related smartphone apps and announced in July 2011 plans to regulate smartphone apps that paired with medical devices the agency already regulates, such as cardiac monitors and radiologic imaging devices. In 2012, Congress passed the FDA Safety and Innovation Act, allowing the FDA to regulate some medical apps on smartphones. But which apps will come under this regulation and which will not remains unclear.

Given their accessibility, these apps could hold tremendous potential once they have been evaluated, said Dr. Meg R. Gerstenblith, an assistant professor in the department of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University.

"If a patient were insistent on using one of these apps," said Gerstenblith, "I would inform him/her that the current study suggests that those apps that involve a board-certified dermatologist evaluating images of lesions may be superior to those that do not employ a board-certified dermatologist to evaluate the lesions."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Could You Have Skin Cancer? There's an App for That

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- If you've ever wondered if the mole you see on your skin could be something more serious -- don't worry. There's an app for that.

Smartphone apps are now promising to detect and even diagnose skin cancer.

But medical experts are concerned that the questionable safety and accuracy of such apps could affect whether or not people choose to seek treatment from a doctor.

For the study, published in the online JAMA Dermatology, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center evaluated four unidentified smartphone apps that claimed to ascertain whether a mole has developed into a cancerous melanoma.  The app that performed the best could accurately single out cancerous moles 98.1 percent of the time, while the app with the worst accuracy identified them up only 6.8 percent of the time -- a far cry from the trained dermatologists' accuracy levels of around 90 percent.

But these apps are generally not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as noted in a Wall Street Journal report. However, there are FDA-approved apps, meant for specific use by physicians in making diagnoses.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project of more than 3,000 respondents, 35 percent of Americans consulted websites to figure out what ails them, and of that group, about half wind up seeing a doctor.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in a statement responding to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's study, the FDA said this research can "reinforce the importance of consumers talking with a health care professional before making any medical decisions," and that the agency plans to make mobile apps a top priority.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Indoor Tanning Tied to 170,000 Skin Cancers Annually

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Indoor tanning increases the risk of two types of common skin cancers, especially among those exposed before the age of 25, a new review of previously published studies shows.

This international study, published Tuesday in the journal BMJ, combined the results of 12 studies on nearly 81,000 people.

By comparing the data linking indoor tanning and skin cancer, researchers estimated that the activity may account for more than 170,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancers -- basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas -- in the United States each year.  In particular, exposure to indoor tanning before the age of 25 was linked to an increased risk for basal cell carcinoma, according to the study.

These findings show that "indoor tanning is dangerous, especially for young people," said study senior author, Dr. Eleni Linos, assistant professor in the department of dermatology at the University of California San Francisco.

Specifically, Linos and her colleagues found that those who reported ever using indoor tanning had a 67 percent higher risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma and a 29 percent higher risk for basal cell carcinoma.

There are several types of skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute website.  Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma form in the higher layers of the skin, while melanoma originates in the cells that create pigment.  It is melanoma that is the most deadly form, but non-melanoma cancers strike many more Americans -- more than an estimated two million in this year alone.  Linos added that non-melanoma skin cancers affect nearly one in five Americans over the course of their lifetimes.

"With this study, we finally have strong evidence that tanning beds contribute to all types of skin cancer including basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma," Linos said.  "The risk of all three types of skin cancer is significantly higher in young people.  This means there is a clear cancer risk for teenagers who use tanning beds, and it's hard to argue with regulations to protect children from cancer."

She said that while non-melanoma skin cancers are less deadly, their impact is enormous.

"Their treatment adds up to the fifth-most costly cancer for Medicare," she said, citing research that showed that the cost of diagnosing and treating these types of skin cancers ranges from $1,200 to $2,100 per case.

Cancer experts not involved with the study called the findings startling.

"This data is really strong," said Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.  "We have been very concerned for a long time that tanning beds clearly cause cancer and we have been recommending against their use."

These findings may renew calls to better regulate indoor tanning, according to the study authors.

"A national ban for those under 18 is a first step, because that is the group at highest risk," Linos said, adding that many states are already doing this.

Representatives from the tanning industry balked at the idea of bans and stiff regulations for a practice they said comes with health benefits that may offset the risks.

"Tanning beds are a good source of vitamin D, which is associated with many health benefits," said John Overstreet, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Indoor Tanning Association.

Such an argument may not be enough to convince many health experts, however.  In 2009, the World Health Organization placed all forms of indoor tanning in the same category as such cancer-causing agents as tobacco smoke and asbestos.

"Vitamin D is important for general health, and can be obtained both through sunlight but also through the diet," Linos said.  "The risks of indoor tanning outweigh the benefits, especially for young people."

Moreover, she added, tanning beds are typically used by young healthy women who are not at risk for Vitamin D deficiency and conditions linked to low vitamin D levels.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Disease: Should Doctors Prescribe a Skin Cancer Drug?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Desperate to stop Alzheimer's in its tracks, some caregivers are clamoring for a cancer drug shown to reverse the disease in mice.  But experts argue prescribing the drug, while legal, is unethical.

"[E]ven if patients and families are willing to take the risks for the potential benefit, the physician's answer should be no," Justin Lowenthal and colleagues from the National Institutes of Health and Massachusetts General Hospital wrote in an editorial published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The editorial was prompted by a February 2012 study published in the journal Science, that found the drug, bexarotene, relieved Alzheimer-like symptoms in three mouse models of Alzheimer's disease.  The drug has yet to be tested in human patients, but because it's approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a form of skin cancer, doctors can choose to prescribe it off-label.

"Off-label use of medications without proper testing may expose patients and their families to serious side effects without the possibility of benefit," said Dr. James Galvin, an Alzheimer's specialist at New York University.  "In the absence of any human trials, I do believe it unethical to prescribe a medication without evidence of efficacy and safety."

Like other cancer drugs, bexarotene can produce serious side effects, including headaches, hair loss, nausea and depression, and can increase cholesterol levels, according to the National Institutes of Health.  In elderly Alzheimer's patients, many of whom take multiple medications, bexarotene could interact and interfere with other drugs.

Most current medications used in Alzheimer's disease are aimed at symptom relief, addressing problems such as depression, hallucinations, agitation and nutrition.  But bexarotene is thought to attack the disease directly by cleaning up beta-amyloid protein plaques in the brain.  While other treatments targeting beta-amyloid have shown promise in mouse models, they've been largely unsuccessful in humans.

"No mouse data should ever get this kind of ill-advised attention because of a track record of failures," said Dr. Peter Whitehouse, a neurologist at Case Western University in Cleveland.

But for the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer's disease and their 10 million caregivers, waiting for human clinical trials is a tall order.  And some doctors say patients and caregivers who understand the risks of an experimental drug should be allowed access.

"If the physician and patient are both suitably well-informed ... an argument could be made that it would be unethical to withhold treatment from a patient who requests it just because the definitive clinical trial had not yet occurred," said Dr. Clifford Saper of Harvard Medical School.

Clinical trials for promising treatments continue, and Dean Hartley from the Alzheimer's Association is optimistic about one day finding a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

"I think we will find one," he said.  "It's just a matter of when."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Extreme Tanner Says Skin Cancer Wouldn’t Stop Her

File photo. (Stockbyte/Thinkstock)(MARINA DEL RAY, Calif.) -- For many women, summertime means hitting the beach and getting a sun-kissed look. For others, like Trisha Paytas, her obsession with being tan consumes everyday life.

Paytas, a model working in the Los Angeles area, says she hasn’t missed a day of tanning in 10 years and doesn’t plan on it.

“I go every morning. It’s my routine,” Paytas, 25, said. “People would say I am almost narcissistic because I really love the way I look when I tan.”

Day in and day out, Paytas goes to Total Tan or another local tanning salon in Marina del Ray, Calif.  Sometimes she’s there twice a day. After hitting the tanning bed, Paytas gets a spray tan to make sure her complexion and color are perfectly even.

Aware of the cancer risks, Paytas says being tan gives her confidence.

“I have seen myself pale and I don’t look like myself,” she said. “When you see someone who is tan, you are like, wow, amazing.”

Giana Gerardo agrees. The 24-year-old is also a tanning fanatic, logging two or three days at week at the local Beach Bum salon where she works.

“It makes me feel good and I feel comfortable in my skin,” Gerardo said.  “It makes my clothes kind of look a little bit better than if I were not as tan.”

Both girls started tanning in their teens after being introduced to it by their moms. Paytas has racked up an expensive tanning tab in her quest for darker skin.  Paytas’ spray tans alone cost her more than $5,000 a year and she is saving up for her own tanning bed.

Skin cancer is now the second most-common cancer among women in their twenties, according to Cancer Research UK, and new studies show that sun bed users under the age of 30 increase their lifetime risk of melanoma by 75 percent.

Paytas told ABC News that even a skin cancer diagnosis wouldn’t stop her from hitting the tanning bed the next day.

“If you told me that I have skin cancer I don’t think I would stop,” she said. “Scrape it off and keep going.”

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Gene Altering Lotion May Treat Skin Diseases

Comstock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Imagine a lotion that can treat irreversible genetic skin diseases like psoriasis or life-threatening skin cancers like melanoma.

Researchers at Northwestern University say they're another step closer to creating a treatment that will naturally slip through the skin and genetically alter cells to treat a particular skin disease.

Using creams and lotions to target a particular problem area is seen as a great advantage among many dermatologists in treating a localized skin problem.

"We like to treat skin diseases with topical creams so that we avoid side effects from treatments taken by mouth or injected," said Dr. Amy Paller, chair of dermatology and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

But the difficulty among researchers has been creating a gene-altering topical agent that can successfully penetrate the skin to specifically treat genetic skin diseases.

"The problem is that our skin is a formidable barrier," Paller said.  "Genetic material can't get through the skin through regular means."

Using nanotechnology, the researchers packaged gene-altering structures on top of tiny particles of gold designed to target epidermal growth factor receptor, a genetic marker associated with many types of skin cancers.  The structure is designed to sneak through the skin and latch onto targets underneath without eliciting an immune response.

The researchers mixed the structure into the ointment Aquaphor, which is commonly used among many patients who have dry skin or irritation.

The researchers then rubbed the ointment onto the mice and onto human skin tissue and saw that the gene-altering structure in the lotion successfully penetrated the skin and was able to shut down the potentially cancer-causing protein, according to the findings published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The preliminary study is regarded as the first to deliver topical gene therapy effectively with no toxic effects.

But even with no documented side effects found in the study, nanotechnology treatments, especially those that rely on gold particles, can potentially cause problems in the body in the long term, according to Dr. Mark Abdelmalek, chief of the division of laser and dermatologic surgery at Drexel University School of Medicine.

"It's naive to expect that putting something like this in the body would have absolutely no side effects," he said.

Another unknown is whether the approach will work on humans, and what the long term effects may be, he said.

"It is temporarily changing the protein while the structure is in contact with the cells, but it doesn't permanently change the genetic defect," Abdelmalek said.  "This is all brand new and exciting, but there's still many things we just don't know."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Caffeine Linked to Lower Skin Cancer Risk, Study Finds

Gerald Zanetti/FoodPix(BOSTON) -- Coffee fanatics are less likely to develop the most common type of skin cancer, a new study found.

The study of nearly 113,000 men and women found that those who drank three or more cups of coffee a day had a 20 percent lower risk of basal cell carcinoma than those who said no to Joe.

"I think we're seeing more and more evidence for the beneficial effects of coffee consumption," said study author Jiali Han, associate professor of dermatology and epidemiology at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health, explaining that java has also been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes and Parkinson's disease.  "I wouldn't recommend drinking coffee solely based on this work, but it does add one more thing to the list."

The study, published on Monday in the journal Cancer Research, sheds new light on a skin cancer that affects 2.8 million Americans each year.

"It's not a lethal disease, but the associated health care cost is substantial," said Han, describing how the slow-growing skin cancer can be cured if caught early.  "Even a small decrease in the incidence will have a huge benefit for individuals and society."

Drinking decaffeinated coffee did not have the same benefit, pointing to caffeine as the protective agent. Indeed, caffeine from sources other than coffee like cola and chocolate was also linked to a decreased risk or basal cell carcinoma, according to the study.

"Caffeine may help the body kill off damaged skin cells," said Dr. Josh Zeichner, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, explaining how exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun can damage skin cells' DNA.  "If you get rid of these cells that are damaged, then they don't have the opportunity to grow and form cancers."

Zeichner described basal cell carcinoma as "pearly papules" on the skin, often resembling a wound that won't heal properly.  Topical creams, surgery, and electrodesiccation curettage -- a procedure that scrapes off the top of the tumor and burns the base -- can cure the cancer.  But Zeichner stressed, "the best treatment is prevention."

"Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen, keep reapplying it, wear sun-protective clothing and avoid the sun during peak hours," Zeichner said.  "Protection is the number one defense against skin cancer, followed by really early detection."

As for coffee's role in skin cancer prevention, Zeichner said the findings are intriguing.

"We're learning more and more about environmental exposures that can contribute to the development of skin cancers, or protection from them, and these include things in our diets.  But this doesn't mean you should go out and start drinking three coffees or a two-liter bottle of cola a day," he said, adding that too much caffeine -- not to mention sugar -- can have harmful health effects.  "We need to learn more."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Best (and Worst) Cities For Your Skin

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wel all know the sun isn’t good for your skin. And just in time for the summer, a new study finds which cities are best for skin.

Daily Glow, one of the Everyday Health network of websites, has determined the best and worst cities for your skin based on the number of cases of melanoma (San Diego leads), percentage of smokers (It's time to quit, Las Vegas) and dermatologists per capita (oddly, Los Angeles has very few).  Climate, air pollution, tanning beds and other factors were included as well.

If you’re worried about your skin, don’t move to California. Three of the top five worst skin cities are located in the state.

“Skin health is a combination of environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors,” said daily Glow Skin & Beauty Expert Dr.  Jessica Wu.  “It’s important for Americans to understand that it is never too late to protect their skin and reverse sun damage — and that even the smallest changes have the power to save and protect their skin for years to come.”

Best Cities for Your Skin:

1. Portland, Ore. ranks No. 1 for its low pollution and ozone rates.
2. San Francisco has the lowest number of tanning beds per capita.
3. In Seattle the sun shines only 47 percent of the time.
4. Baltimore had the fewest cases of melanoma.
5. Chicago has the highest number of skin-care specialists.

Worst Cities for Your Skin:

1. Las Vegas: A high percentage (22.3 percent) of the population smokes.
2. Phoenix has high summer temperatures and a lot of sunshine.
3. Fresno, Calif. has high levels of pollution.
4. In Sacramento, Calif., one-third of adults have had at least one sunburn this year.
5. Los Angeles has a low per-capita percentage of dermatologists.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Cancer Drug Gives Patients with Rare Skin Cancer New Hope

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For nearly 50 years, Joe Brindley, 81, has been going to the doctor every few months, getting chunks of cancer removed from the skin all over his body. Doctors removed so much skin from his nose that he needed a skin graft from his forehead to reconstruct it.

"I said at the time, Doc, do you think that will do me any good? I'll have new skin cancer in three years," Brindley said. Sure enough, two years after the painful surgery, the cancer returned.

Stewart Slone, 63, estimates that he's had more than 1,000 skin cancers in his lifetime. Surgeries to remove cancer from the top of his head left it bald and raw. He said people called him lots of names he'd like to forget.

"I've sort of lived as an outcast, all the scars on my face, and no hair and the red color to my head," he said.

Brindley, Sloane and thousands of others have a condition called basal-cell nevus syndrome, or Gorlin syndrome. It's a rare genetic disorder that gives a single person hundreds to thousands of skin cancer tumors during his or her lifetime.

People with the condition usually have surgery every two or three months to remove a cancerous lesion from their skin. They risk losing an ear, an eye or nose, along with having scars and lesions on their faces.

"Surgery was the only treatment, and has been for many years," said Kathlyn Roth, 58, who has had Gorlin syndrome since she was 15. "When you're walking around with a bandage or cotton ball sewn to your face, people look at you very strangely."

However, patients with Gorlin syndrome now have new hope from a drug that treats the disease. The drug, called vismodegib, not only treats patients with Gorlin syndrome but also thousands patients with advanced stages of basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.

Three studies published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine describe the success of the drug against basal cell carcinomas. Dr. David Bickers, chairman of dermatology at Columbia University and an author of one of the studies, said for the 2 million people who develop a few small skin cancers, surgery is still the best option. But for people with advanced forms of the disease, the drug will be a major help.

"These patients instead of having one or two basal cells, often develop dozens, even hundreds of them, requiring hundreds of surgeries," Bickers said. "For those patients, taking this drug and reducing the tumor burden is a major advance."

The quest for a treatment for this type of skin cancer began more than 20 years ago, when scientists discovered a biologic pathway that tells the body's cells when to stop growing. The pathway, called the sonic hedgehog pathway, plays a key role in the growth and development of fertilized eggs, starting and stopping at specifically timed points in development.

"Once you're born, it pretty much shuts off. And that's a good thing," Bickers said.

But the trouble begins when the sonic hedgehog pathway spins out of control.

"When it turns on again in the adult, this drives the cell division that drives the growth of tumors," Bickers said. Decades of research has shown scientists that the pathway is active not only in skin cancer, but also in some childhood cancers, pancreatic cancer and certain types of lung cancer.

In patients with Gorlin syndrome, an error in a gene called PTCH prevents their bodies from putting the brakes on the sonic hedgehog pathway, leading to the unchecked growth of tumors.

Now, nearly 20 years after scientists discovered the role of the pathway in tumor growth, researchers developed vismodegib to target the pathway, basically shutting it off. The drug is manufactured by Genentech.

According to the new results of small clinical trials, the approach works. Researchers studied 104 patients in the most advanced stages of basal cell carcinoma, giving them the drug for a little over a year. Tumors shrank in the majority of the patients, and in some patients, the tumors disappeared completely.

In a study of 41 patients with Gorlin syndrome, the results were similar. In the 26 patients getting the drug, researchers saw only two new tumors develop, compared with 29 new tumors in the 15 patients taking a placebo pill. The size of existing tumors also shrank in patients taking the drug. The drug worked with surprising speed; the researchers wrote that they expected the drug to need at least two months to make noticeable changes, but many patients saw results after about one month on the drug.

"This really is a breakthrough," said Dr. Darrell Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at NYU-Langone Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. "On a scale of one to 10 in breakthroughs in dermatology, this is probably an eight or a nine."

Rigel has been using vismodegib in his patients with advanced basal cell disease since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in January. He said the differences for these patients have been dramatic.

"We really had nothing for these patients before. If someone comes in with 30 or 40 of these tumors, you start running out of places to cut people," he said. "To now have something that works so dramatically is very exciting."

The drug has some tough side effects, such as hair loss, painful muscle cramps, weight loss and loss of taste. The side effects were enough to drive 54 percent of the Gorlin syndrome patients to drop out of the study. In the study of patients with advanced basal cell carcinoma, seven patients died, though it's not clear if their deaths were directly related to the effects of the drug.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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