Let the sun shine in, but also be weary of melanoma

Jul 31, 2020

It's been a hot and steamy summer, the kind of season that can send you out on the water to relax or onto a towel at the beach to work on that perfect tan. That perfect tan can also carry a potentially lethal aftereffect.

It's called melanoma, a word that scares people because the five-year survival rate hasn't been bad, it's been awful. When Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center immunologist Dr. Igor Puzanov began to research melanoma nearly two decades ago, the five-year survival rate was 3%. With an array of new drugs and with a patient who sees a problem and comes in early, however, the survival rate is races to 50%.

"The American Cancer Society just released new numbers of survivorship and the numbers actually went up," he said. "Five-year survival for melanoma is northward of 30% and actually improving. We're probably going to reach 50%, 55% very soon because of the new drugs."

Even so, Puzanov said it remains a serious disease.

"There is hope. So we never do the doom and gloom and you have six months," he said. "It's a life-threatening disease and it may shorten your life considerably, even for stage four melanoma. But it may not and, of course, we are hopeful for all patients, all the patients, that they may be the 50% survivors."

Puzanov said that's why Roswell Park has a team of oncologists and dermatologists to diagnose and treat the disease.

Dr. Igor Puzanov has been researching melanoma for two decades.
Credit Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Melanoma isn't a particularly unusual cancer, with 100,000 new cases a year and a special problem among young people. It hits all races and has claimed well-known victims, like reggae king Bob Marley.

"We have the Great Lakes and when you are out there on the water, there's obviously no shade and people do get tanned and they go to the sun," Puzanov said, "and because they do not expect any problems because this is Buffalo, but as long as you are getting sunburn, you are actually predisposing yourself to melanoma."