Monday, September 24, 2012

Melanoma Around The World: A Call To Drug Companies

Being the pastor behind the Facebook open community page, Melanoma Prayer Center, I often come in contact with people from around the world who are affected, somehow, by melanoma. This is an awesome position I find myself in because I am, by no means, a "traveler" of any kind and yet Facebook allows me the privilege of coming in contact with people I never would have any other way. For that I am truly grateful.

That also means that I can learn some things that I find rather unsettling. Currently, as I write, I am enjoying a season of private messages with a young woman, under 30, from an Asian country where melanoma is extremely rare. She has just been diagnosed and it is already in her lungs and liver. Her treatment options: chemo, followed by Interferon, and then, if necessary, biochemotherapy. As I write, she has her first chemo today.

Her country has no tanning beds. As a matter of fact, she tells me that skin bleaching is very popular where she lives.  Hers is also a country of beautiful beaches. My guess is, and I could be wrong, but I'm guessing not many people there practice safe-sun. Not many here in the USA do, so why should it be different anywhere else in the world? But, like I said, I could be wrong. All I know is that she's her oncologist's only melanoma patient. There are no melanoma trials being offered in her country, only breast cancer ones. And Yervoy, which is showing great promise here, will not be available where she lives for another five years. FIVE YEARS. Zelboraf isn't an option, either. And if they WERE options, the cost would be astronomically prohibitive.

So my brain has been thinking and wondering what worldwide melanoma stats are like. I also wonder what can be done to speed up other countries having what we have so people can have access to treatments that just might save their lives, or at the very least, prolong them. Do these countries face the same rate of melanoma-diagnosis increase as we do? OK, tanning beds may be out of the picture, but is bleaching a cancer risk? And then there's the hot sun and plentiful beaches in these countries.

First, the pressure that exists in Asian countries to have white skin:  A Vision of Pale Beauty Carries Risks for Asia's Women from The New York Times Asian Pacific. "Skin-whitening products work in various ways. Some contain acids that remove old skin to reveal newer, lighter skin underneath. Others inhibit melanin, like those with mulberry extract, licorice extract, kojic acid, arbutin and hydroquinone, an ingredient in prescription creams for blemishes as well as in photo processing materials." (The red is mine to point out how dangerous some of these are).

"Worldwide, doctors diagnose about 160,000 new cases of melanoma yearly. It is more common in women than in men. In women, the most common site is the legs and melanomas in men are most common on the back. It is particularly common among Caucasians, especially northwestern Europeans living in sunny climates. There are high rates of incidence in Oceania, Northern America, Europe, southern Africa, and Latin America, with a paradoxical decrease in southern Italy and Sicily. This geographic pattern reflects the primary cause, ultraviolet light (UV) exposure crossed with the amount of skin pigmentation in the population. According to a WHO report, about 48,000 melanoma related deaths occur worldwide per year."

"Race is the primary risk factor
for developing melanoma, with fair-skinned races at greater risk than darker-skinned races. In the United States, white Americans are 20 times more likely to develop melanoma than African Americans. Worldwide, white populations have the highest risk of developing melanoma, and Asian populations the lowest risk."

As I stated earlier, my new friend is Asian, so let me hone in on the Asian population and melanoma.

"However, despite the extensively published results from Western countries, knowledge of melanoma in Asian patients is scant. Current available literatures for the disease in Asia are limited to a survey, a small retrospective series, as well as an epidemiology report from U.S. that included Asian patients as a minority group. Clinical evidence for Asian patients especially of large-scale does not exist due to, at least in part, the rarity of the disease in this region. As such, the etiology, characteristics, biological behavior, as well as outcome after treatment are largely unknown for melanoma in Asian patients."

"Internationally, the incidence of melanoma varies greatly, with the highest incidence occurring in Australia, the United States, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Israel, and the lowest incidence in Japan, the Philippines, China and India."

My friend is in one of these countries that has the "lowest incidence." There are others, though, in each of these countries.

Drug companies who manufacture Yervoy and Zelboraf and that are coming out with new trials and options: you have plants in Asia. Can you, please, make alliances with the hospitals and doctors who see people with melanoma and cut through the red tape and get these drugs in their hands? Can you make trials available? Can you even GIVE them these drugs where costs make them prohibitive? Or, at least, reduce the cost significantly? Call it research if you want. Study what works best on our warriors in Asian countries and I want to include African countries also. But, please, figure out a way to make these options available worldwide.

I want what we, in the USA, just assume is available EVERYWHERE to truly be available everywhere.

YOU can make that happen.

God bless the warrior, no matter where they live.

Drug companies...make them and all of us



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