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June 2017

Use of Targeted Therapy in the Treatment of Advanced Cutaneous Cancers

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Dermatology, Department of Internal Medicine, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri
JAMA Dermatol. 2017;153(6):501-502. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.0506

Now is an exciting time in the field of cutaneous oncology. More advances in the treatment of metastatic melanoma, advanced basal and squamous cell carcinomas, and Merkel cell carcinoma have been made in the past 5 years than in the previous 5 decades. As in other fields of oncology, the discovery of targeted therapies has revolutionized our treatment of patients with advanced disease. Older cytotoxic agents with substantial morbidity have been replaced with therapies directed at specific aberrant pathways to minimize the adverse-effect profile and maximize efficacy. Drugs are no longer selected via trial and error; specific pretreatment genetic testing can alert the clinician to the driving mutation(s), and a personalized treatment plan can be based on each patient’s particular profile. As a result, patients with metastatic skin cancer are living longer, sometimes even achieving complete remission. A diagnosis of metastatic melanoma, advanced basal or squamous cell carcinoma, or Merkel cell carcinoma is no longer a death sentence. Patients and their families can have greater hope. And while each therapy may extend a patient’s life expectancy by only a few months, as new therapeutic options become available, patients may live long enough for the next great breakthrough. The future of cutaneous oncology is quite promising.

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