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When will Melanoma vaccines be ready?

Melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer

Cancer is among the main causes of death in many countries, especially in the first world, for a number of reasons. Bad living habits and exposure to harmful substances, radiation and other agents increases our chances to develop many forms of tumours and other similar disorders. Also, an aging population means that we are more likely to get chronic illnesses as well as conditions derived from the progressive wearing of our systems. Cancer results of a genetic mutation in some cells of our bodies, which happens over time and exposure to cancerygens. In other words, the longer we live and the worse our bad habits, the more likely we are to develop cancer at some point in our lives.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that happens when melanocytes, the cells on our skin that produce tanning, mutate and become a tumour. In early stages, melanoma can seem like a normal mole, but after a while it starts to change and develops and odd look. That means the tumour is growing, and it could be extending to other organs or parts of your body under your skin.

Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer, yet it can be prevented, and cured in a relatively easy way if early detected. For this reason, you should check your moles regularly, going to a dermatologist or simply keeping an eye on your own skin features. You can learn about the main signs of alert for a melanoma, including moles of odd shapes and colours, bleeding moles, or moles that grow very fast and change the way they look in a matter of weeks. If you have any of these, you should go to a dermatologist right away. It might literally save your life.

Are there vaccines for cancer?

In the very beginning, vaccines were discovered as a way to prevent virus infections. And for a long time, that was the only thing they did - which is far from not being much. They helped erradicate or fight many diseases, including lethal conditions, and to this day they are one of the most praised methods to prevent viral infections.

The mechanism of a vaccine is very simple. A body is incoculated with dead or weakened viruses for a certain disease, which triggers an immune response. Since these viruses are so vulnerable, the immune cells can fight them easily and eliminate them before they make the body sick. After this exposure, immune cells will remember the structure of the virus, so they can present an enhanced defense next time they are exposed. Thanks to this molecular memory, when the body is exposed to actual contagion, the immune system can respond quickly and effectively and neutralize the infection before it becomes a disease.

The first vaccines designed for cancer were actually intended for certain types of cancer, like some cervix cancer, linked to viral infections. This isn't the only example of vaccines available for treating or preventing diseases people don't usually know may be linked to a viral infection. For example, some vaccines can also prevent deafness because they can protect your body from certain viruses that may affect your middle ear, ear canal or auditive nerve.

Preventive vaccines already exist for tumours developed from viral infections. However, now new trials are being conducted in the hope to develop vaccines that will literally help the body fight tumours themselves and get rid of cancer cells. In other words, if proven successful, these vaccines will be used as a therapeutical method to help erradicate cancer.

Is there a vaccine for melanoma?

Currently, there are melanoma vaccines in clinical trial. This means that doctors have developed some prototypes for these vaccines, but research is still in progress as they haven't managed to find a formula or technique that proves effective enough to be released to the general population.

Vaccines for melanoma work in similar ways as regular vaccines, except that instead of inoculating weakened viruses they contain weakened or broken melanoma cells. The action mechanism is the same: the body learns to identify harmful components and fight them better, so its immune response can be enhaced. With a successful melanoma vaccine, the body should learn how to fight the tumour by itself and make it dissappear in time.

Research shows mixed results, and scientist are still tuning the formula and method in the search for effectiveness and safety. Once a working formula is discovered, it should begin to be distributed to the public. For now, the best we can do to prevent melanoma is to protect our skin from UV exposure and go to a dermatologist regularly.

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