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Training the body to fight melanoma

New, experimental therapy trains immune system to fight the disease

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CHICAGO, Ill. – Todd Greenlee has been in and out of the hospital since he was diagnosed with stage-4 melanoma last year.

"I had a large, almost like tennis ball sized lump underneath my left arm," he said.

Surgeons removed the lump, but the cancer came back and spread. With no other options, Doctors encouraged Greenlee to enroll in a new clinical trial.

Dr. Michael Nishimura, Associate Director of the  Oncology Institute at Loyola University Medical Center, says t-cells are removed from a patient and genetically modified. 

"We actually engineer the cells to make them work better, so that they can target your cancer cells," he explained.

To make room for the new army of t-cells, high doses of chemo are used to wipe out any other t-cells in the body. Next, the new t-cells recognize the cancerous cells and kill them. A fight Greenlee plans to win one step at a time.

"On the CT scans they've seen some spots actually gone. They've also seen spots that have diminished in size," Greenlee said.

This is not Greenlee's first battle with cancer. He's survived two brain tumors. 

Additional Information:

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer that can be hard to treat and fatal if not caught in the early stages. Skin cancer is caused by rapid, significant amounts of ultraviolet radiation from the sun or a tanning bed that damages skin cells and causes them to create cancerous growths on the skin. These growths are called melanomas and can also develop from moles on the skin. These melanomas can be a variety of different colors but are usually brown or black. Fortunately, if melanoma is caught early, it is almost always curable. Doctors recommend always doing a self-exam after being exposed to high amounts of UV rays. A simple self-exam consists of checking yourself all over for any possible lesions or unusual new moles or growths and determine if there is any change in existing moles or growths. (Source: http://www.skincancer.org)

TREATMENT: There are many treatment options for varying levels of melanoma such as surgery and chemotherapy. Surgeries for melanoma aren't always major procedures. There is also a simple excision; where the melanomas are removed along with some skin around the edges. For chemotherapy, success in melanoma cases has been limited. Dacarbazine is currently the only chemotherapy treatment that's been FDA approved to treat stage IV melanoma and is given as an intravenous infusion. (Source: http://www.melanoma.org/understand-melanoma/melanoma-treatment)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: There may now be a better way to treat cases of melanoma. Immunotherapy is being tested on melanoma cases to see if doctors can turn a person's T cells into a weapon against skin cancer. T cells are the cells that carry out the function of the immune system. Immunotherapy uses medications to train a person's immune system to fight cancer cells and has so far shown promising results. T cells are first killed off in the body using chemotherapy and newly modified T cells are inserted. These new cells provide a more natural way for the body to fight melanoma. (Source: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/detailedguide/melanoma-skin-cancer-treating-immunotherapy)