MCG to test skin cancer medication

Initial studies of new drug pique doctors' interest

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The worst part of being treated for advanced skin cancer is the flu-like aftershock from chemotherapy that lays out Mary Cayer in front of her four young children.

Mary Cayer undergoes chemotherapy for advanced skin cancer. She said she is glad there is another treatment option available.   Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Mary Cayer undergoes chemotherapy for advanced skin cancer. She said she is glad there is another treatment option available.

"It kills me for them to see me laying in bed," she said.

The interferon chemotherapy was one of a few options for advanced melanoma, none of them particularly good, said Dr. Amanda May, a medical oncologist with Medical College of Georgia Cancer Center.

"That's been our constant thing is, what else can we do for melanoma because it is so difficult to treat once you're in advanced disease," she said.

Interferon "works for some. It doesn't work for others," May said. "It's absolutely miserable treatment."

That changed recently when the Food and Drug Administration approved ipilimumab. It is the first drug for melanoma approved in 13 years and the first to show a significant increase in survival for advanced melanoma patients, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Ipilimumab is a monoclonal antibody, a drug designed to target a specific molecule called CTLA-4 that acts to dampen down T-cell response, according to an article last year in the New England Journal of Medicine .

"It works to recruit the immune system," May said, which can then attack the tumor.

In the study, those who got the drug had a 20 percent greater survival rate at one year and 10 percent higher at two years than those who got another immunotherapy.

"This is certainly a drug that offers us more than what we've had in the past, which is very minimal responses," May said. "This is something in the advanced melanoma that is actually showing us a response. It is extending life."

After so many disappointing drug studies in the past, when those results were announced last year at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, "all of a sudden, everybody stopped and listened and said, 'Really?' " May said.

Because it revs up the immune system, the drug can also cause significant side effects. Diarrhea and fatigue were the most common among the study participants and patients need to be closely monitored on the drug, May said.

MCG Cancer Center just began a clinical trial of the drug earlier this year, and is studying it in combination with an immune-stimulating agent, May said.

"There are side effects and they're real, and patients have to be aware of that. But I think they are manageable," she said.

The new drug is likely just a first step and might end up being part of a combination therapy, May said.

"But it certainly shows a response, more response than we've ever had," she said. "It's the first little bright light at the end of the tunnel in the treatment of melanoma. And I think it is going to open the gateway for some newer and better things even. And this is certainly a step."

Because she has already been through seven months of interferon therapy, Cayer said she will likely stick with it through the whole year-long course. All things considered, she feels she is doing well and is optimistic after seeing her mother beat breast cancer 15 years ago.

"She's still doing good," Cayer said. "If she can get through breast cancer, I believe I can fight hard through skin cancer."

Although she doesn't need it right now, Cayer said she is glad there is another drug available.

"That's good news for the future," she said.

Local research

Although it was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating melanoma, clinical trials on ipilimumab continue and Medical College of Georgia Cancer Center is participating in one.

The study is to look at the drug alone or in combination with an immune-stimulating agent called granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor. The study is for those with advanced stage melanoma, stage III or IV. For more information, call study coordinator Melanie Kumrow at (706) 721-8301.

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commonsense-is-endangere 04/04/11 - 05:41 am
"Treatment using Ipilimumab

"Treatment using Ipilimumab (marketed as Yervoy) has been associated with severe and potentially fatal immune-mediated adverse-reactions due to T cell activation and proliferation.

soldout 04/04/11 - 09:03 am
From what I have read the

From what I have read the best preventive for skin cancer is sunshine without sunscreen. Since the use of sun screens has become the norm, skin cancer in women is up 50%. Vit D is the preventer for skin cancer so you don't want to block it with sun screen. Satins use also hurts the absorption of vit D. Most folks are low on Vit D which helps prevent all type of cancer, including breast. The sun is your friend and not the enemy. In dealing with the sun we need to use our brain and not sunscreen. Most sunscreens contain dangerous chemicals. Some folks don't absorb vit D and that can be fixed with NAET in about 15 minutes. It takes 48 hours to absorb vit D so after getting some sun only use soap where the sun didn't shine.

galaxygrl 04/04/11 - 09:34 am
My husband was told he had

My husband was told he had less than a year to live from recurrent melanoma, stage 4. He went to NIH for high dose IL-2 and vaccine therapy. He is alive 10 years later. There are risks to any medications but living is better than dying and not seeing your kids grow up. His treatment was extreme but the outcome was worth it. I suspect Mary feels the same way.

Angela Quick
Angela Quick 04/04/11 - 11:26 am
I am very good friends with

I am very good friends with Mary(vicky) and I can say she is a very strong young woman with everything going on in her life. I know she is a great mother and I know she will fight anything through that comes her way. Mary(vicky) KEEP DOING WHAT YOU DO GIRL!. I know you will beat this and you have great family and friends standing beside you helping you along the way. LOVE YOU

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