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"We'd like to reduce that death rate, but that's not happening," said Dr. Martin A. Weinstock, chairman of the American Cancer Society's Skin Cancer Advisory Committee. "We're not being effective in preventing melanoma. We've been making progress in early detection but not as much as we would like. And therapy for melanomas not detected early is basically poor."
But several advances announced in the last year -- from testing "sentinel" lymph nodes as a way to jump-start aggressive treatment, to new gene therapies that may one day beat back the cancer -- have given doctors a cautious sense of optimism.
Still, the experts add that these treatments need more testing, and prevention remains the best way to avoid the disease. So, the message remains the same -- protect yourself from the sun, and keep an eye on unusual skin growths.
"There are a lot of therapies that are promising," said Weinstock, professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University and chief of dermatology at the VA Medical Center in Providence, R.I. "But they're all possibilities. We just don't know if they're going to pan out yet."