Oncodermatology takes the stage at Fox Lectureship

Rather than interrupting cancer treatment, oncodermatologists can help treat the side effects.


Mario E. Lacouture, MD, FAAD
Mario E. Lacouture, MD, FAAD

Oncodermatology has evolved rapidly over the last 15 years, bringing the skills and expertise of dermatologists to the care of patients undergoing cancer treatments and to those who are plagued by the side effects affecting the hair, skin, and nails.

These advances align well with the Everett C. Fox, MD,  Award and Lectureship celebrating innovative thinking. Mario E. Lacouture, MD, FAAD, delivered the lecture during the Summer Meeting’s Plenary (P151). Dr. Lacouture is a full member and director of the oncodermatology program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“Oncodermatology was created for the 20 million people diagnosed with cancer every year all over the world and the more than 35 million survivors living with a prior cancer history,” Dr. Lacouture said. “The evolution of oncodermatology has impacted how cancer patients are cared for through scientific and clinical advances. Oncodermatology provides patients with early and rapid access to dermatologists across the country, improving quality of life and ensuring patients are able to continue to receive cancer therapies.”

Several things have happened in the last two decades to bring oncodermatology to the forefront of cancer care, Dr. Lacouture said. In the past, when patients presented with cancer treatment-related side effects affecting hair, skin, and nails, oncologists would interrupt the cancer treatment and restart it later when the patient could tolerate another treatment. If the pattern of side effects continued, oncologists would simply stop the use of that drug and look for another.

“Without dermatologic support, oncologists have limited resources to manage dermatologic conditions,” Dr. Lacouture said. “In up to a third of patients with skin side effects, cancer drugs may be stopped.”

The remedy, he said, is same-day visits with an oncodermatologist to treat the side effect. That only happens as dermatologists gain more knowledge in community and academic centers so that patients can receive rapid access and effective therapies for side effects, he said. According to Dr. Lacouture, there are currently 30 to 50 oncodermatologists spread across 80% of U.S. cancer centers.

Other developments in the last decade, he said, include an increase in clinical trials specifically directed toward treating the aggressive effects of chemotherapy and immunotherapy. For example, Dr. Lacouture said, clinical trials led to FDA approval of two devices that cool the scalp and reduce hair loss due to chemotherapy. Studies show the devices work in 50-70% of patients.

The push for oncodermatology has since led to the formation of the Oncodermatology Society this year, with the mission of advancing cancer care through skin health. The first textbook on oncodermatology was published in 2012.

“One in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives,” Dr. Lacouture said. “Oncodermatology exists to improve skin-related quality of life, optimize the use of cancer treatments by ensuring tolerability, and establish dermatologists as integral partners in the care of those touched by cancer.”