June 5, 2003 -- Nearly a million people with psoriasis may be not getting the treatment they need and may be missing out on new, more effective psoriasis treatments. Researchers say recent developments in biotechnology are yielding a new generation of treatments for people with the chronic skin condition.
Researchers say up to 7 million people in the U.S. suffer from psoriasis, which typically strikes young people between the ages of 15 and 35. The disease causes scaling and inflammation of the skin and can vary in severity from small patches of irritation on the elbows, knees, and scalp to potentially disabling flare-ups that affect large portions of the body.
"Psoriasis is probably one of the most misunderstood diseases because most of what we learn is mainly from commercials on TV talking about the heartbreak of psoriasis or using a shampoo to get rid of a few flakes in your scalp," says Kenneth B. Gordon, MD, associate professor of medicine in the division of dermatology at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.
"Psoriasis is a disease that's driven by the immune system. It's a disease where you see the physical manifestations are in the skin. In many cases, however, it's the blood cells -- the immune cells -- that drive the skin changes you see," says Gordon, who spoke at an American Medical Association briefing on inflammatory diseases in New York City.
Old Psoriasis Treatments Limited
Until now, psoriasis treatments were limited to topical steroid creams applied to affected areas of the skin, phototherapy using ultraviolet light, and drugs such as Accutane, methotrexate, and cyclosporine. Although these traditional psoriasis treatments can be effective in many patients, researchers say they are limited by their significant long-term side effects.
"Psoriasis for me is characterized by frustration about the limited options available," says Michael Paranzino, who has suffered from severe psoriasis for several years and now serves as patient advocate for the National Psoriasis Foundation. "It was slim pickings all through the '90s."
Paranzino says the fear of running out of options and the lack of choices are major issues that prompt many people with psoriasis to give up on finding effective psoriasis treatments.