Skin cancer trial may help patients avoid chemotherapy

For those living in Australia, the threat of skin cancer is very real. Living in an environment with increasing levels of UV radiation, approximately two in three Australians will experience a skin cancer diagnosis by the time they reach the age of 70. It comes as good news then, that a new skin cancer trial may mean patients suffering certain types of skin cancer may be able to avoid the traumatic treatment of chemotherapy.

In a trial conducted by the Trans Tasman Radiation Oncology Group (TROG) Cancer Research, 321 patients with squamous cell carcinoma were treated with surgery followed by radiation. Spanning an 11 year period, the trial began in 2005 and had an 88% success rate of curing the skin cancer.

What is squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a form of uncontrolled growth of cells that arise in squamous cells that comprise the skins upper layers known as the epidermis. SCC is typically characterised by red patches with a scaly appearance, elevated growths and open sores, although each SCC will appear differently.

Traditionally treated with chemotherapy, the world-first trial involved patients receiving surgery to remove the SCC, then being treated with radiotherapy. Some patients also received doses of intravenous chemotherapy, however the results of the trial showed that there was no difference in cure rates between patients who had post-operative chemo and those who didn’t.

The results of the trial indicate that patients with SCC may be able to avoid having chemotherapy in their treatment plan, thus avoiding the unpleasant side effects chemotherapy commonly causes. Professor Sandro Porceddu from the Princess Alexandra Hospital acted as the head of the trial, and commented that “the quality of life was excellent in these patients after they had received surgery and radio therapy”.

Good news for Australians

According to Skin Cancer Foundation, SCC is ‘mainly caused by cumulative ultraviolet (UV) exposure over the course of a lifetime; daily year-round exposure to the sun’s UV light, intense exposure in the summer months”.

As spending large amounts of time in the sun is typical of the Australian lifestyle, the new trial could potentially have a significant impact on Australian skin cancer patients, especially those in Queensland who are exposed to year round sun, with Professor Porceddu commenting “Queensland has the highest rates of skin cancer than everywhere else in the world”.

While the trial is an excellent advancement in treatment, with over 2000 Australian’s dying from skin cancer each year, prevention is key. Follow the sun smart rules of slip slop slap, and book regular skin checks to ensure the early detection of any potentially dangerous skin cancers. 

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