Innovations in the fight against skin cancer


Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in New Zealand, with an estimated 67,000 cases treated each year. Indeed, New Zealand and Australia have the world’s highest rates of melanoma, the most lethal form of cancer. According to the Sun Smart health promotion agency, melanoma claims the same number of New Zealanders each year as those who die in car accidents, and it is the fourth most common cancer in New Zealand. In today’s post we look at two innovations, one in melanoma treatment and the other in skin cancer prevention.

Virotherapy towards a cure

An international research team has found a way to use a genetically engineered version of the herpes virus (the virus responsible for cold sores) as a treatment for aggressive melanoma.

The treatment, an example of “virotherapy”, is still pending license. However, the trial results are promising:

  • Over 400 patients from the US, the UK, Canada and South Africa
  • 1 in 4 patients responded to treatment
  • 16% still in remission after 6 months
  • 10% in “complete remission” (no trace of remaining cancer)

The study, the largest randomised trial of its kind, is the first time a virus has been used to treat melanoma and, in particular, patients in which the cancer had already spread throughout the body and was even considered to be inoperable. The study is also noted to be the first time that virotherapy has led to an increase in survival.

The trial’s lead UK researcher, Prof Kevin Harrington of the Institute of Cancer Research, London, explains that the keen interest generated by viral treatments is due to their ability to “launch a two-pronged attack on tumours – both killing cancer cells directly and marshalling the immune system against them” and to the fact that they generally have fewer side effects than other therapies.

A “handy” solution for sun exposure

Dr David Hazafy at Queen’s University Belfast, has created a wristband that lets wearers know when they’ve exceeded their healthy dose of sunshine for the day. Personalised according to the wearer’s skin tone, the bands contain a special ink consisting of a photocatalyst, which changes causes the dye in the ink to disappear as it absorbs UV light. When the ink is completely gone, then it’s time to get out of the sun. Wearers can even add the same sunscreen to the bands as they put on their skin so that they can stay out longer, yet safer. In addition, they can be waterproofed and recharged overnight. Set to make their commercial debut in 2016, the bands inexpensive price tag will make them an affordable safety measure for holiday goers or anyone concerned about their sun exposure.

Summer may be over, but good skin protection and skin cancer awareness is an important issue all year round. Best Doctors encourages you to discuss any skin, skin cancer or sun protection concerns with your doctor or dermatologist.


New Zealand Ministry of Health

Sun Smart health promotion agency

Roberts, Michelle (May 26th 2015) Cold sore virus ‘treats skin cancer’. Retrieved from

Devlin, Hannah (May 27th 2015) Virotherapy: skin cancer successfully treated with herpes-based drug. Retrieved from:

Hickey, Shane (31 May 2015) The innovators: a wristband that tells you when you’ve had enough sun. Retrieved from:


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