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Psoriasis can be effectively treated (1-31-00)

More than 7 million Americans have psoriasis, a skin disorder that causes inflamed, red, thickened areas covered with white scales. The size of the inflamed areas can vary and severe cases can cover large portions of the body. New treatment options offer help with the most severe cases.

"Human skin cells usually mature in 28 to 30 days and are shed from the skin unnoticed," says Ronald A. Grimwood, M.D., clinical professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Dermatology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "In psoriasis patients, the skin cells mature in four to seven days, causing the dead cells to accumulate and create lesions."

The cause of psoriasis is unknown. Research suggests some type of stimulus affects the immune system, setting off the abnormally fast skin cell growth. The signs of psoriasis include itching and unsightly appearance.

Treatment depends on the severity of the disease. For milder cases, Dr. Grimwood prescribes a cortisone-based topical cream. For severe cases, dermatologists may recommend light therapies, including managed exposure to ultraviolet A (UVA) light or ultraviolet B (UVB) light. Treatment with UVA light may be accompanied by Psoralen, a medication given to the patient before light therapy to make the patientís skin more susceptible to light. This combination of therapy is called PUVA.

"The PUVA treatment slows down the rapid skin growth," says Dr. Grimwood. "It takes 20 to 30 sessions to see noticeable improvement, and the effects of PUVA last up to one year."

Controversy surrounds PUVA treatments because of fears that the treatments increase the risk of skin cancer. "The increased risk for skin cancer is there with prolonged PUVA treatments," says Dr. Grimwood. "But we follow the patients closely, which is vital, and cause for alarm is very minimal under careful physician guidance."

Although there is no cure for psoriasis, effective treatment options are available. "Today, every patient who has psoriasis can be treated. There is hope for the most severe cases, and researchers are making great strides in coming closer to a cure," says Dr. Grimwood.

Contact: Myong Covert