Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: melanoma

New Real World Health Care Series: Melanoma Research and Treatment

“Have you heard from mom and dad recently?” My sister’s question caught me off-guard.  Without realizing it, I hadn’t actually heard from my parents in a while.  She had already asked my brother the same question and he reported not hearing from them lately either.  With no imminent trips back to Michigan from our respective homes in Colorado, Maryland, and North Carolina, all three of us started calling and emailing our parents with some urgency to make sure things were well.

Krista Zodet, President, HealthWell Foundation

My mom’s email came back quickly, bringing us up to speed: “Dad went to the dermatologist about a troublesome spot on his cheek and the doctor did a full body check too.  He found a spot on the back of his thigh and did a biopsy.  Diagnosis: melanoma.  Treatment: surgery.” They removed a patch of skin from my dad’s leg – an area he couldn’t see and for the most part was covered by shorts or pants year-round.  It had been malignant and they got all of it.

That was early 2001, and my dad had just retired (talk about timing).  Because of early detection and annual check-ups since, he has been melanoma-free for 16 years.  We learned a lot about melanoma back then: It is the most dangerous form of skin cancer; and we also understand – thankfully – if it is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable.

May is Melanoma Awareness Month

Since HealthWell opened its melanoma fund, I have learned even more about this devastating disease: Without early detection, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma kills an estimated 10,130 people in the U.S. annually.

Treatment typically begins by surgically removing the melanoma. Surgical treatments have advanced over the past decade, and most can be done in the doctor’s office or as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia. In recent years, Mohs Micrographic Surgery has become popular as an alternative to standard surgery for certain melanomas. This procedure spares as much of the normal tissue (known as the margins) as possible while allowing the surgeon to pinpoint the cancer’s location when it is invisible to the naked eye.

When melanoma cells spread to the lymph nodes (stage III) or more distant parts of the body (stage IV), the disease is considered advanced and additional therapy usually follows surgical removal of the original skin tumor. Thanks to an array of treatment options, patients with metastatic melanoma can extend their lives by months or years. A rising number of patients go into long-term remission.

The HealthWell Foundation, sponsor of Real World Health Care, is proud to have supported the melanoma patient community in recent years with copayment and premium assistance. We have helped more than 2,230 melanoma patients afford their treatments since approving our first Melanoma grant in 2011 — thanks to the generous support of our corporate partners. Due to high patient volume, our melanoma fund is temporarily closed until we receive additional funding. We invite corporations and individuals to help us meet this demand by contributing to our Melanoma-Medicare Access Fund, so nobody goes without essential medications because they cannot afford them.



Categories: General, Melanoma

UV Safety Month: Shedding Light on Melanoma Treatment and Prevention

In 2014, an approximate 77,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma, culminating in nearly 10,000 deaths. Every eight minutes, an American is diagnosed with melanoma, and every hour, an American dies from it. Despite accounting for only four percent of all skin cancer cases, melanoma results in 80 percent of all skin cancer-related deaths. In observance of UV Safety Month, Real World Health Care is examining what’s working and what’s new in the prevention and treatment of melanoma.

photo (1)

Nathan Sheon

If detected early, melanoma is easily treated with surgery. If a tumor in the epidermis – the upper-most layer of skin – is removed before it deepens into the skin or spreads to other parts of the body, the likelihood of completely curing melanoma is high. When melanoma spreads, other treatment options include chemo- and radiation therapy.

Once melanoma has progressed to its later stages, however, treatment of the disease becomes much more difficult. For these patients, treatment options usually focus on extending life expectancy and improving quality of life.

Within the last few years, developments in melanoma research have provided promising leads on how to increase a patient’s lifespan beyond the capabilities of existing treatments. Certain activation immunotherapies – drugs that activate the immune system’s ability to fight disease – are showing potential in their ability to combat the spread of melanoma by killing tumors. Though these treatments do not work in all melanoma patients, in some cases they have been associated with unprecedented increases in lifespan.

“All of these trials involve late stage cancer patients. Suddenly we’re seeing those same patients getting two years or more survival time,” said Ashani Weeraratna of the Wistar Institute, the nation’s first independent institution devoted to medical research and training. “Enhancing the immune system such that it can effectively target and destroy your tumor has been a goal for many years. That’s [the field’s] big advance.”

Melanoma is almost always curable when detected and treated early on. Monthly self-examinations and yearly visits to the dermatologist are highly advised, even for those not predisposed to skin cancers. More information on how to perform a self-examination can be found online in guides from the Skin Cancer Foundation and the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Among other important measures like self-examinations and avoiding tanning booths, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises that wearing sunscreen when spending time outdoors is vital, especially during peak daylight hours between 10 AM to 2 PM. The AAD suggests using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or above. With a range of sunscreen products on the market, choosing the right one can be difficult. Different products are more effective for different people depending on skin type. Visit the Skin Cancer Foundation’s guide for more information on choosing the right sunscreen product for you. For more information and tips on preventing and detecting melanoma, visit the AAD’s online guide.

How do you stay safe in the sun? Let us know in the comments section.

*Jamie Elizabeth Rosen, editor of Real World Health Care, contributed to this piece.

Will You Be There for Stella?

When patients are diagnosed with cancer, the last thing they should have to worry about is money. That’s why the HealthWell Foundation is planning to open the Emergency Cancer Relief Fund (ECRF). This Fund is something completely new and different – created specifically to help people with expenses not covered under HealthWell’s traditional copay fund structure.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

For example, HealthWell will be able to grant as little as $25 to help someone pay for anti-nausea medicine and larger grants for things such as surgical expenses and diagnostic testing that piled up during their treatment. HealthWell has provided direct financial assistance so that more than 70,000 insured people living with cancer can afford their medical treatments.

Once open, ECRF will enable HealthWell to continue helping even more cancer patients just like Stella — wife, mother and caregiver from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As Stella describes in her letter below, HealthWell’s grant was exactly what she needed to help her afford her treatments and continue caring for her family:

Dear Friends,

The past two years have been pretty bad for my husband and me. On February 21, 2011 we lost our only daughter to Scleroderma – a devastating disease that shrunk her skin, took her bones, her kidneys, her heart and finally her life – even though she had the best medical care available in Atlanta, GA.

We didn’t think things could ever be that bad again but, in July of that year, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – Type B. In August, our son (and only remaining child) was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer. We feared that we would lose both our children in the same year; however, he was treated very aggressively with radiation and hormones and now is in remission.

My husband turned 90 this year and has bladder cancer, prostate cancer, he just had a melanoma removed from his face and two weeks later a squamous cell carcinoma was removed from his arm. The tests showed complete removal (how thankful we are for that). So far, we have been able to keep up with the copays for everything until non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma struck me. Without your generous support the winter of 2011 and June of 2012, I could not even have begun my treatment. But the Lord is good! He led me to a great medical team who led me to you kind folks and my treatment began in October 2011. I am now scheduled for four treatments, beginning in May and another four beginning in November, after which my doctor thinks I won’t need any more for a while.

Could you possibly help me with the series of treatments? I just have to get well. My husband is 90 years old and besides the cancer in various parts of his body, he is losing his eye sight, his memory (it is bad) and his hearing. There is no one else to take care of him. I am the last living of my family and he has one sis

ter who is in worse health than he is. Please! Let me know if you can help me in any amount. I will be eternally grateful. Please forgive the length of this letter. When I began writing, it just all poured out. I have no one to talk to about this, so thanks for listening.

Stella – Baton Rouge, LA

P.S. Please accept my meager check in the amount of $25.00. I hope there will be more available in time.

Money is the Last Thing A Cancer Patient Should Have to Worry About

Patients just like Stella who had nowhere else to turn are counting on HealthWell for financial relief right now. But for ECRF to open, we must raise $50,000 and have a long way to go before we hit our goal. So far we’ve raised $20,640 but aren’t there yet. Can we count of you to help us reach out goal?

Click here to learn about ECRF, and donate whatever you can — $5, $10, $25 — so we can make life easier for more patients who are struggling to survive.

Categories: Cost-Savings