Monday, May 16, 2011

Melanoma symposium--in bullet points

I drove to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and back on Saturday (535 miles) to learn that:

• About half of the 60 or so people who attended the "Living with Melanoma" symposium were themselves either melanoma patients or survivors. I guess you could say I’m both.

• The coffee served in Seattle is always good, even when it comes out of a five-gallon urn.

• There are more tanning salons than Starbucks in many American cities.

• The World Health Organization has classified tanning beds as a carcinogen.

Melanoma research is proportionately underfunded vis-a-vis other forms of cancer at the National Cancer Institute.

• Most melanoma patients receive results of their follow-up scans within a day. I’m lucky to get mine in three.

• Fewer melanoma centers are doing interleukin-2 therapy for advanced melanoma patients now that Yervoy has been approved.

• The melanoma program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has its own Facebook page. Why not every cancer center?

• Two of five plenary lectures at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting next month are on new melanoma drugs.

FDA approval for PLX4032 (vemurafenib) is expected by fall, which would make this targeted therapy the second drug approved for advanced melanoma this year.

• Prior to 2011, there hadn’t been a new FDA-approved drug for melanoma in 13 years.

• You’d be a fool to not seek care for advanced melanoma at a major cancer center with melanoma specialists. As one of the physician speakers said Saturday, “This cancer has humbled us all.”

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance takes patient care seriously. Both OHSU and Providence Cancer Center would do well to learn from it.

Spontaneous regression is rare in melanoma, but much more common than in most other cancers.

• Complete responses to adoptive T cell therapy are rare, but can provide a cure.

• "Rare" is a word that melanoma specialists use a lot.

• Clinical investigators in melanoma really want you to sign up for clinical trials.

• If you don’t test positive for the BRAF mutation, taking PLX4032 can actually make your tumors grow faster.

80% of all benign moles carry a BRAF mutation. The single mutation by itself isn't enough to cause melanoma.

• About 50% of patients with metastatic disease confined to the skin (that includes me) respond to interleukin-2. If true, why hasn’t my oncologist told me this?

• Among all melanoma patients who receive IL-2, only 5% are full responders (cured). Until this spring, this drug was considered a first-line treatment—meaning there was nothing better.

The lifetime risk of Caucasians being diagnosed with melanoma is 1 in 50. For those who are, the average life-years lost by early death are 18.6. Only testicular cancer has a worst record.

• Some people believe “we can see a time when melanoma will be treatable or curable.” I hope they’re right.


Steve said...

Sounds like a worthwhile trip. Maybe you should remind the imaging center about the importance of timely reporting to patients.

Peter Ogle said...

The radiologists typically read the scans that day, but then the reports languish at my oncologist's office. That's where the pressure needs to be applied.