Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. In fact, it is the most common of all cancers.
There are about 1 million new cases in the US each year. Usually basal cell skin cancers are easily treated, but they often require surgery and can leave unsightly scars. A new drug might treat this common skin cancer with a pill.
When they are superficial, BCCs can be cured with a topical anticancer medication such as 5-fluorouracil, or with an immune boosting cream called imiquimod.
If they are larger or nodular, then they can be treated with a simple surgical procedure such as electrodessication and curettage (where the tumor is scraped off the skin and gently burned with an electric current), or with a simple surgical excision.
More complicated basal cell carcinomas, or those in cosmetically sensitive areas, can be treated by Mohs surgery, a specific type of surgery where the dermatologist excises the cancer and examines the margins of the removed skin right in the office to ensure the tumor is completely removed before you leave.
Now for the first time, there is a pill in early stages of development that might cure basal cell carcinomas by attacking it at its mutated gene.
The drug, which counteracts the mutation found in all BCCs, was found to be effective in patients with advanced or metastatic basal cell carcinoma who were enrolled in a phase I clinical trial. The data were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting here in San Diego.
The drug is called GDC-0449 and is being developed by Genentech. If it turns out to be safe and effective (which won’t be known for some time), then it would be a significant breakthrough, potentially leading to treating many basal cell carcinomas with a pill instead of surgery.
Photo: Simulacrum, Flickr.com