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Eating Away at Skin Cancer – A New Treatment Approach

by Sobia Ozair, M.D., medical oncologist

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and will affect one in five Americans during their lifetime. It can occur anywhere on the body but usually forms in skin that’s been exposed to sunlight. Of the different types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most aggressive and is likely to spread to other parts of the body without early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

Innovative Skin Cancer Treatments at the Cancer Center

There are several new medical treatments that the FDA has recently approved for skin cancer, but one of the most interesting involves injecting a genetically altered live herpes virus into the skin. Viral therapy has long been studied as a means to directly kill cancer cells, and with more research, we actually have a drug that has been approved to do just that in melanoma.

This drug, T-VEC, has been approved for patients with locally recurrent melanoma or in-transit melanoma, which have classically been very challenging to treat because of the volume of disease that involves the skin. There are often too many lesions to surgically remove, so in the past, medical therapy has not been very effective. Thankfully, that is changing.

T-VEC is a reduced form of the herpes virus that directly infects the melanoma tumor it’s injected into. It causes the melanoma cells to break apart and generates a strong inflammatory response that triggers other normal immune cells to wake up and to start fighting the cancer cells as well. So the drug can not only be effective on the cancerous area, but it also stimulates the immune response to attack other cancerous cells in the body.

The T-VEC virus has been designed to selectively grow and multiply in cancer cells but not in healthy cells. Before the FDA approved it in 2015, there was rigorous testing through clinical trials on cancer patients. Common side effects include fatigue, chills, fever, and flu-like symptoms, but overall, serious side effects from the treatment were extremely rare and the drug is considered safe in immunocompetent patients.

Detecting Skin Cancer Early

As dangerous as skin cancer can be, it is also very treatable if it is caught early, so examining your skin and seeing your doctor about any changes is incredibly important. We recommend checking your skin monthly for any new or changed moles or marks. This may seem simple, but it can save your life! Learn more about prevention and early detection here.

Upcoming Skin Cancer Awareness Fundraiser

On June 8, Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center is teaming up with FestiGals for the second annual Baton Rouge Rock for Spots! It’s a one-night benefit concert at the Varsity Theatre supporting patients with melanoma and other forms of skin and soft tissue cancer. We hope you’ll join us!

STRAIGHT TO THE POINT

New T-VEC drug treatment is available at Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center in Baton Rouge. Learn more by visiting marybird.org/skin.

  • Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and will affect one in five Americans during their lifetime.
  • The FDA has recently approved T-VEC, a new medical treatment for skin cancer that involves a genetically altered live herpes virus designed to selectively grow and multiply in cancer cells but not in healthy cells.
  • Skin cancer can be dangerous but also very treatable if caught early, so it is incredibly important to examine your skin and see your doctor about any changes.
Sobia Ozair

Dr. Sobia Ozair is a medical oncologist at Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center in Baton Rouge. She was trained at the University of South Alabama and the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.