Can new melanoma therapy stop the spread?

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 said.

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, Dr. Diwakar Davar, 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% of the time. So, it represents a substantial and significant improvement upon the effect of Opdivo alone,” Davar said.