New Melanoma Therapy Stops the Spread!


PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— May is Melanoma Awareness month. Health experts say the rate of this cancer is continuing to rise, especially in women under 40 and men over 60. Over the past few years, immunotherapies have been effective for some patients, but researchers are now testing a new therapy for patients with advanced melanoma that has been tough to treat.

Steve and Janie Balzer have been married 45 years and together since their high school junior prom. Steve was just about to retire from his job as an electric company lineman when he felt a stabbing pain in his arm.

“Next thing I know this, this lump’s popping up, it’s maybe as big as your thumb, you know, it’s on my arm, I’m like ‘eh, I must’ve blown out a muscle or tendon,’” Steve recalled.

Steve was diagnosed with stage four melanoma.

“It was scary … ” Janie shared.

Steve had surgery but decided to skip additional treatments because of the side effects. Three years later, the cancer came back in his lymph nodes. This time, Diwakar Davar MD, a hematologist and oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, had a new option. A clinical trial combining Opdivo, an immunotherapy currently used in melanoma treatment, and an injection of another drug known as CMP-001.

“The combination that we’ve developed works about 60 to 70 percent of the time. So, it represents a substantial and significant improvement upon the effect of Opdivo alone,” explained Dr. Davar, MD.

Steve liked the idea behind the treatment.

“Jack up your immune system and shoot this CMP right into the tumor. And we’re going to train your immune system to go after that thing,” Steve described.

It worked! Giving them more time with their eight grandkids … and each other.

Patients receive the therapy for seven weeks before surgery, and then after for about 46 weeks. Steve has scans of his lymph nodes every three months, and so far, there is no evidence of the cancer returning. Dr. Davar says patients receiving Opdivo alone for recurrent melanoma before surgery have a response rate of about 18 to 25 percent.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive & Field Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4892

BACKGROUND: Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when the cells that give the skin its color start to grow out of control. It is much less common than other types of skin cancers, but more dangerous because it’s more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught and treated early. Melanoma tumors are usually brown or black, but some do not make melanin and can appear pink, tan, or even white. Melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin. They typically start on the trunk (chest and back) in men and on the legs in women. Other common areas are the neck and face.


SIGNS AND RISKS: Melanomas most often develop in areas that have been exposed to the sun, like your back, legs, arms, and face, but can occur in areas that don’t receive much sun, like the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, and fingernail beds. These hidden melanomas are more common in people with darker skin. Some of the first signs of melanomas are a change in an existing mole, or the development of a new pigmented or unusual-looking growth on your skin. Some factors that may increase the risk of melanoma include having less pigment in your skin which means having less protection from damaging UV radiation. One or more severe, blistering sunburns can increase your risk of melanoma, and exposure to UV radiation, which comes from the sun and tanning beds, can increase the risk of skin cancer. People living closer to the earth’s equator, where the sun’s rays are more direct, experience higher amounts of UV radiation than do those living farther north or south. Having more than 50 ordinary moles on your body indicates an increased risk of melanoma. And a family history of melanoma or a weakened immune system can increase your risk.


NEW APPROACHES FOR MELANOMA TREATMENT: Rizwan Haq, an MRA-funded physician-scientist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is studying two broad categories of treatment approaches: why don’t new melanoma treatments provide a lasting benefit for some patients, and what is being done to improve them? One approach called ‘targeted therapy’ turns off the molecular switches that drive melanoma tumor growth. Currently, targeted therapies are only effective in melanoma patients whose tumors have a genetic defect in the protein BRAF. The other treatment approach releases the breaks on the patient’s immune system to respond to tumors. It is called ‘immune-based therapies’ or ‘immunotherapy.’ Some immunotherapies are given systemically, while others are injected directly into accessible melanoma tumors.






If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at