Will patients of aggressive melanomas soon be spared from radiation treatments that can be painful and believed to be ineffective? Yes, according to a research team in Queensland, Australia.
The group from Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane said its world-first research will determine whether someone is resistant to radiation therapy before undergoing it.
The personalized treatment, which is akin to how drug resistance is evaluated, will radiate patients' melanoma cells in the lab to gauge their response to the treatment.
Personalized Treatment Approach
Lead researcher Professor Bryan Burmeister, who has been dealing with melanoma cases for 25 years now, emphasized the importance of determining the best treatment option for melanoma patients, as they react differently to the common treatment of the skin cancer.
"[I]t still amazes me how, in some patients, the disease melts away and in others it just laughs at you and kills the patient within a few weeks or months," he said.
The research is now in its early phases. Patients found to be resistant to radiotherapy will be spared from further toxic effects, while those who respond positively would no longer have to go through invasive tumor removal surgery.
Burmeister explained the process of culturing cells in a petri dish and exposing them to small radiation doses to see their reaction.
"Once we identify clones of cells we think might be sensitive to the radiation, we go further to see if we can identify individual biomarkers, which we can then test for in identifying radio sensitivity," he explained, highlighting the incredible differences in the disease's behavior in people.
The radiation oncologist said that theirs is a world's first, even though pharmaceutical firms had previously investigated the effects of drug therapy on melanoma sufferers.
Queensland alone has a notable prevalence of melanoma cases. Cancer Council Queensland said it is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in their youth.
In the state, there are 110 men under the age 35 diagnosed, while women in the same age group have about 140 new cases.
"A diagnosis of melanoma at such a young age can be particularly distressing," said the group's spokesperson Katie Clift, who urged parents to protect young kids from dangerous ultraviolet rays as much as they can.
In Australia, skin cancer takes up a staggering 80 percent of all newly diagnosed cancer cases. Acting Health Minister Dr. Anthony Lynham dubbed melanoma as a diabolical disease.
"So this groundbreaking research to determine essentially whether patients can be treated with radiation is extremely, extremely important to us," he said.
According to the World Health Organization, one in every three newly diagnosed cancers is a skin cancer, with about 132,000 cases of melanoma occurring worldwide each year.
Melanoma is the fifth leading cancer in men and the seventh leading type in women, with most patients cured by an initial surgical operation.
The range of melanoma treatments includes not just surgery, but also targeted therapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.