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Pioneering drug could extend lives of skin cancer patients

New drug could see skin cancer patients' lifespan increase by three years. Credit: Reuters

Thousands of patients suffering the deadliest form of skin cancer could see their lifespan increased by a pioneering new drug.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has recommended that Ipilimumab, marketed as Yervoy and hailed as a turning point in cancer treatment, should be made available as a first-line treatment for those with advanced melonoma.

Nice was previously criticised for ruling the drug should only be offered to patients who had already undergone chemotherapy or were taking part in clinical trials.

But new evidence has shown that the lifespan of those treated with the drug could increase by up to three years.

"Some of these results are really astonishing; almost jaw-dropping," said consultant medical oncologist Dr David Chao, from Royal Hampstead NHS Trust in London.

Final Nice guidance on ipilimumab is due to be issued on July 23.

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How does UV cause skin cancer?

Cancer Research UK says too much UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds can damage the DNA in skin cells. If the DNA builds up enough damage over time, it can cause cells to start growing out of control, leading to skin cancer.

There are two main types of UV rays. Both types can cause skin cancer - UVB and UVA.

Sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged by too much UV radiation. Sunburn doesn’t have to be raw, peeling or blistering. If your skin has gone red in the sun, it’s burnt.

The above video, by Cancer Research UK, explains what happens to skin when it becomes sunburnt.


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Skin cancer: Who is most at risk?

Cancer Research UK is warning people to be careful with sunbeds and sunny weather.

Who is the most at risk of skin cancer?

  • Fair skin
  • Moles or freckles
  • Red or fair hair
  • Light coloured eyes
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • History of sunburn

If you have naturally brown or black skin you are much less likely to develop skin cancer. This is because people with naturally brown or black skin have more melanin pigment in their cells. This helps protect the skin from damaging UV rays.

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Skin cancer rates double in Yorkshire

The number of people diagnosed with skin cancer in Yorkshire has doubled in the last 20 years. Around a thousand people in our region are now developing the disease every year.

Amanda Crosland from Leeds was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2001. Being red-haired and fair skinned, the mum to two daughters has always covered up in the sun. So, when she noticed a new mole, she got it checked out straight away.

Skin cancer survivor: Speed of disease was 'terrifying'

A skin cancer survivor described the speed with which a mole on her face became cancerous as "quite terrifying".

Loti Jackson, 28, from West Sussex explained to Daybreak how catching the cancer early had saved her life, but expressed concern at the rapid pace of the disease.

"Being on the side of my face, I had noticed it had gotten raised a bit. But to go from August to November of being fine to needing it removed was quite terrifying."

Skin cancer rates 'five times higher than in 1970s'

Skin cancer rates have soared since the seventies, Cancer Research UK says. Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Rates of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, are five times higher in the UK than they were in the 1970s, new figures show.

More than 13,000 people are now developing the disease each year compared about 1,800 in 1975.

The dramatic rise is partly down to the huge increase in package holidays to sunny European destinations, a boom in sunbed use, and the fashion for a "healthy" tan, according to Cancer Research UK which released the figures.

However, survival rates for the disease are among the highest for any cancer, with more than eight in 10 people now surviving it, the charity says.

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