Entries in Melanoma (15)


Arizona Baby Who Got Melanoma in Womb Still Thriving

KNXV/ABC NewsPHOENIX) -- Addison Cox, the Phoenix girl who mysteriously contracted her mother's deadly melanoma while still in the womb, has surprised doctors and will soon celebrate her second birthday.

Her mother, Phoenix police detective Briana Cox, died last year of cancer that had metastasized during her pregnancy. She was only 33 years old.

In a rare and unexplained medical mystery, Briana's cancer cells had crossed the placenta to her developing fetus.

Addison was just 6 weeks old when doctors found tumors had spread throughout her body. Her family was told she would likely not survive much beyond a year.

"Her original diagnosis was 12 to 18 months," her father, James Cox, told ABC News. "She turns 2 in May."

"We sure are pleased," he said. "Basically our family has gotten so much support from each other and friends. ...The local church took us under their wing and my co-workers have been so kind to all of us."

Addison has a 4-year-old biological brother who has been in counseling since his mother died.

"He still thinks about his mother and misses her," said James, 37. "But talking to a 4-year-old kid about anything can be difficult."

Addison also has two teenage stepbrothers. James' mother, who is from Texas, has been living with the family to help out for the last nearly two years.

The cancer has affected the child's brain, shoulder, lungs, kidney, liver, leg, and even the back of her tongue. Addison has had chemotherapy, radiation and brain surgeries at Phoenix Children's Hospital, which is hosting a telethon to benefit the family.

"One hundred percent of the proceeds raised will have a direct impact on care, along with critical programs services provided to patients and families," said hospital spokeswoman Stacy Dillier.

The toddler has been on chemotherapy for 20 months and has undergone radiation. A month ago, she had two brain surgeries four days apart.

A fundraiser by the police department where Briana Cox worked has helped the family deal with their financial needs. "Most has been covered by medical insurance, but it's the cost of day-to-day life that really hammers us," said James Cox.

So far, Addison has progressed well, understanding speech and saying a few words, like any child her age, according to her father.

"That gives you a lot to look forward to and know she's still doing this well, it just kind of keeps you going," said James.

Addison's mother had a malignant skin melanoma removed in 2006 and was assured by her doctors that the cancer had not spread and all her margins were clear.

Briana Cox went on to have a son David, now 4, and again became pregnant with her daughter Addison.

But just two months after the baby was born, in June 2011, Briana had a seizure and collapsed during a run. Scans revealed her brain and other parts of her body were riddled with advanced cancer.

And when four dark bumps appeared on baby Addison's forehead in September, she too was diagnosed with the same stage-four melanoma.

Briana Cox died in February of 2012, but her last wish was to tell her family's private, but painful story to help others better understand the dangers of the disease.

James Cox was in the Azores, serving in the U.S. Air Force, when his wife was diagnosed. Today, James works in emergency management.

"It was like running into a brick wall," he said in local press at the time. "It knocks the wind out of you. It was like being punched in the chest. And when Addison was [diagnosed], it was like being ejected from a car. You wonder, what's next?"

The phenomenon has only been recorded "a handful of times" in medical literature, according to Dr. Pooja Hingorani, a pediatric oncologist who treats Addison at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

"All cancer can happen in pregnancy," Hingorani told ABC News last year. "But melanoma is the most common cancer to pass through the placenta from the mother."

About 30 percent of all mother-to-fetus cancers are melanoma, according to Hingorani, who said she has only seen four to five cases ever.

"When it is in the blood stream, it can go everywhere," she said.

Melanoma is a virulent form of skin cancer that begins in the cells that make the pigment melanin, but it can also begin in the eyes or intestines. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 76,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and 9,100 die of the disease.

Sun exposure is thought to be one of the causes of melanoma. Hingorani said cancer among women of childbearing age is on the rise, and those who are pregnant, should tell their doctors if they've had melanoma.

"After the birth, the placenta needs to be examined carefully," she said. "It's hard to say if we would have picked it up at birth, if Addison would have had a less extent of disease."

Meanwhile, James Cox said he has been overjoyed with the medical care that Addison has received.

James said Addison's doctors hope to get her into clinical trials, if treatments start to fail.

"They got her in immediately when it was discovered, coordinated her care and are constantly looking forward to the next step."

"If Phoenix Children's had not been there," he said. "Addison would have already passed away."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Researchers Urge Against Use of Indoor Tanning

Cultura/Liam Norris(NEW YORK) -- More than one million people visit tanning salons in the United States every day.

Many of those that do use tanning salons are teenage girls. According to an article in the journal Pediatrics, 35 to 40 percent of white adolescent girls use indoor tanning devices. The article points out that artificial tanning increases the risks of skin cancer. The increased risk includes risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, and a common cancer among adolescents and young adults.

The average U.S. city has more tanning salons than Starbucks or McDonald's locations.

The rate of melanoma in women age 15 to 39 more than doubled between 1973 and 2004, according to the article. According to the authors, 25 percent of melanoma diagnoses may be attributable to tanning beds. The article also urges pediatricians to discuss the dangers of the life-threatening practice with families.

Researchers also suggested spray tanning as a potential alternative which does not include the same health risks as tanning beds.

President Obama's health care overhaul implemented a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning in 2010. Several states and medical organizations have moved to ban minors from tanning in tanning salons.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Georgia Man Shaves Head to Support Wife, Finds His Own Cancer

Courtesy Dolly Stringer(NEW YORK) -- When Dolly Stringer was diagnosed with breast cancer in April, she decided to take control and shave her head before she began chemotherapy.

Now, the Moultrie, Ga., woman believes she got cancer for a reason: to save her husband’s life.

To show solidarity with Stringer, her husband, Bud, decided to shave his head.  His family members were curious about the black patch on his newly-shaved pate.

“And I said ‘you know, I’m sure that’s a birthmark,’ but I didn’t realize I had one so I called my mom and she said ‘no, it’s not a birthmark, you didn’t have one,’” Bud Stringer told ABC News in an interview Monday.

He decided it was a mole, but a biopsy proved him wrong: it was stage three malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.

The Stringers, who have a son who’s 12 and another who’s 10, were stunned.  They had never had any health problems before.

“I was just really in shock and Bud was, too … and I was just devastated, because it’s one thing to have it yourself, that I could handle, but to know that Bud was going to have to go through what I was going through, and worse?” Dolly, 47, said.

Dolly had had several surgeries since her stage three breast cancer diagnosis, and completed her eighth -- and final round -- of chemotherapy last week.  She is preparing to start six and a half weeks of radiation treatment.

Bud’s treatment will be more intense.  Since his cancer is so aggressive, his treatment will have to be as well.  Diagnosed in August, he’s already had two extensive surgeries, and is preparing to start a year of chemotherapy.  Bud said he’ll have chemotherapy five days a week for the first month, and will do self-injections of chemo for 11 months after that.

Despite their troubles, the two -- married for nearly 20 years -- are upbeat.

“The surgeons down at Moffitt (Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.), they all feel very positive about the eventual outcome, that it will be very good,” Bud said.

Dolly’s prognosis is also good.  She said her doctor told her she had a “garden-variety” type of cancer.  She believes her illness has a greater purpose.

“I now know that I had to have that to save Bud’s life, because he would have been -- the doctor told me that I would have been burying him probably by Christmas” if the melanoma hadn’t been diagnosed and treated, she said, adding, “We just have so, so much to be thankful for.”

Bud, 48, agreed.

“I’m not a Bible-thumper, I am a Christian, but I really feel like God’s hand shaved my head.  I really do … If Dolly had not lost her hair -- or chosen to shave her head -- I never would have found this … ,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Gene Altering Lotion May Treat Skin Diseases

Comstock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Imagine a lotion that can treat irreversible genetic skin diseases like psoriasis or life-threatening skin cancers like melanoma.

Researchers at Northwestern University say they're another step closer to creating a treatment that will naturally slip through the skin and genetically alter cells to treat a particular skin disease.

Using creams and lotions to target a particular problem area is seen as a great advantage among many dermatologists in treating a localized skin problem.

"We like to treat skin diseases with topical creams so that we avoid side effects from treatments taken by mouth or injected," said Dr. Amy Paller, chair of dermatology and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

But the difficulty among researchers has been creating a gene-altering topical agent that can successfully penetrate the skin to specifically treat genetic skin diseases.

"The problem is that our skin is a formidable barrier," Paller said.  "Genetic material can't get through the skin through regular means."

Using nanotechnology, the researchers packaged gene-altering structures on top of tiny particles of gold designed to target epidermal growth factor receptor, a genetic marker associated with many types of skin cancers.  The structure is designed to sneak through the skin and latch onto targets underneath without eliciting an immune response.

The researchers mixed the structure into the ointment Aquaphor, which is commonly used among many patients who have dry skin or irritation.

The researchers then rubbed the ointment onto the mice and onto human skin tissue and saw that the gene-altering structure in the lotion successfully penetrated the skin and was able to shut down the potentially cancer-causing protein, according to the findings published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The preliminary study is regarded as the first to deliver topical gene therapy effectively with no toxic effects.

But even with no documented side effects found in the study, nanotechnology treatments, especially those that rely on gold particles, can potentially cause problems in the body in the long term, according to Dr. Mark Abdelmalek, chief of the division of laser and dermatologic surgery at Drexel University School of Medicine.

"It's naive to expect that putting something like this in the body would have absolutely no side effects," he said.

Another unknown is whether the approach will work on humans, and what the long term effects may be, he said.

"It is temporarily changing the protein while the structure is in contact with the cells, but it doesn't permanently change the genetic defect," Abdelmalek said.  "This is all brand new and exciting, but there's still many things we just don't know."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Experimental Drug Trains Immune System to Shrink Tumors

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An experimental cancer drug successfully shrank tumors in patients with different kinds of cancer, including typically hard-to-treat lung cancers, according to a new study. Oncologists said the research was encouraging, but more study was needed to know whether the drug would prolong life for cancer patients.

The study, led by Dr. Suzanne Topalian, was presented today at the Super Bowl of cancer professionals, a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In a small, early phase study, researchers used a drug targeting a portion of the body's immune system, a pathway called PD-1, which usually works to stop the body from fighting cancerous tumors. By shutting down the pathway, the drug stokes the body's immune system to fight tumor cells.

Researchers gave the drug to nearly 240 patients with advanced melanoma, colorectal, prostate, kidney and lung cancers. All the patients had tried up to five other treatments, which failed. After up to two years on the drug, tumors shrank in 26 of 94 patients with melanoma, nine of 33 patients with kidney cancer and 14 of 76 patients with lung cancer.

The drug was not without side effects. About 14 percent of patients in the trial reported conditions such as skin rashes, diarrhea or breathing problems.

Alan Kravitz, 70, took the drug for two years to treat his melanoma, which had been diagnosed in the spring of 2007. He said the drug gave him a sunburn that lasted for two months and some mild fatigue. But the tumors that had spread to his lungs were gone.

"My first CT scans showed that the tumors in my lungs basically disappeared," he said. "It enabled my own immune system to kill the tumors. Quite an amazing drug."

Cancer specialists said the fact that the drug caused tumors to shrink, rather than simply to stop growing, is an important measure of success.

"Traditionally in cancer medicine, a tumor that shrinks is an indication that you're killing the cancer," said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology and oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La.

To see that kind of success against several different kinds of cancer, particularly against melanoma, kidney and lung cancers, which are notoriously unresponsive to many of the usual treatments doctors use to thwart them, was also unusual.

David Grobin, 62, a retired Baltimore police officer, underwent nearly three years of unsuccessful chemotherapy and radiation for his lung cancer before taking the drug in February 2011. Now, he said his tumors hadn't totally disappeared, but they are much smaller than they were.

"How lucky can a person be? This is better than anything that I have had before," Grobin said.

"To see this kind of response in cancers that are so difficult to treat is very encouraging," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

The study did not show whether patients lived longer after taking the drug, but experts said early phases of drug trials typically aren't designed to determine improvements in survival. As scientists study the drug in larger numbers of patients for longer periods of time, the drug's success in prolonging life for cancer patients will become clearer.

Lichtenfeld also noted that early trials of drugs are intended to show whether a drug is safe, and don't usually find impressive numbers of patients who respond to the drug. To see those numbers emerging early in drug trials is encouraging, he said.

The difference in the drug's early success may lie in the approach it takes in delivering targeted cancer therapy. Cancer researchers have been chasing more targeted ways to deliver cancer treatments for decades now, in search of a method more refined than the "slash, burn and poison" approaches available with traditional surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Usually, targeted therapies hone in on a particular part of the cancer itself – a particular kind of cell or a process vital to a tumor's survival.

The current drug is a different because it targets the body's own immune system, training it to recognize tumor cells as foreign, malicious agents.

"In spite of everything we've done so far with cancer drugs, chemotherapy and the rest, what could be more powerful than having the body's own immune system attack the cancer?" said Dr. Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center.

Still, doctors remain cautiously optimistic about the drug's early promise.

"In all new studies, there's usually a lot of optimism and hope, but this should all be tempered with a dose of realism," Brooks said. "What's initially reported may not necessarily pan out with time."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


High School Students Sign No-Tanning Pledges for Prom

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(MAYNARD, Mass.) -- On Friday, students at Maynard High School in Maynard, Mass. made good on an important promise: no tanning before this year's prom.

Many of the students signed a pledge in February that they would skip the tanning bed and sunbathing before prom this year in an effort to reduce their risk of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.

Allison Bosse, the high school senior who organized the pledge, said convincing everyone to flaunt their pale skin was no easy task.

"Our school is known for a lot of people tanning.  Kids start in March because they want to be tan in their dresses for prom," she said.

Bosse said the pressure for students to get a golden glow is so great that freshmen start visiting tanning beds even though they don't go to the prom.

Bosse said she wanted to educate her classmates about the dangers of tanning.  She set up tables at lunch and started asking for people to sign the no-tanning pledge.  Of the school's 283 seniors, 209 signed the pledge.

"A couple of people said 'I like tanning too much, I can't sign that.  I won't get skin cancer,'" Bosse said.  "But it seemed like a lot really listened and weren't going to do it anymore."

The pledges taken at Maynard High School are part of a growing trend at high schools around the U.S., aimed at educating students about the connection between tanning and skin cancer.

Rates of melanoma have been rising steadily among young adults for the past few decades.  In April, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that rates of melanoma increased by a factor of more than six from 1970 to 2009, and the rates were highest among young women. 

Though any exposure to ultraviolet rays can increase the risk of melanoma, experts believe the rise is linked to widespread use of tanning beds among teenagers.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Melanoma Rates Increasing in Young Adults, Women Hit Hardest 

Duncan Smith/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study reveals that melanoma rates for young adults are increasing, and young women are suffering twice as much as young men, Health Day reports.

Mayo Clinic researchers used records from the Rochester Epidemiology Project, which is a database of all patient care in Olmsted County, Minn. that spans decades. The researchers sought first-time diagnoses of melanoma in patients 19 to 39 years old between 1970 and 2009. They found that the occurrence of melanoma increased eight times in young women and four times in young men.

Researchers indicated that the use of indoor tanning beds may be contributing to the trend, but said ultraviolet exposure and childhood sunburns could also be a factor.

The study revealed, however, that although melanoma rates are on the rise, the number of people dying from skin cancer has decreased. Researchers attribute increased survival rates to early detection of the disease and prompt medical treatment.

The findings appear in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Phoenix Mother Passes Cancer Through Placenta to Baby

Courtesy James Cox(PHOENIX) -- Briana Cox had a malignant skin melanoma removed in 2006 and was assured by her doctors that the cancer had not spread and all her margins were clear.

The Phoenix police detective went on to have a son David, now 3, and became again pregnant with her daughter Addison.

But just two months after her daughter was born in June 2011, Cox had a seizure and collapsed during a run.  Scans revealed her brain and other parts of her body were riddled with advanced cancer.

Months later, when four dark bumps appeared on baby Addison's forehead, she too was diagnosed with the same stage-four melanoma.

Cox died in February at the age of 33, but her last wish was to tell her family's private, but painful story to help others better understand the dangers of the disease.

Her doctors were baffled by this medical anomaly -- Cox's cancer cells had metastasized during her pregnancy and crossed the placenta to her developing fetus.

"It was like running into a brick wall," said James Cox, who was in the Azores serving in the U.S. Air Force when his wife was diagnosed.  "It knocks the wind out of you.  It was like being punched in the chest.  And when Addison was, it was like being ejected from a car.  You wonder, what's next?"

The phenomenon has only been recorded "a handful of times" in medical literature, according to Dr. Pooja Hingorani, a pediatric oncologist who is now treating Addison at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

"All cancer can happen in pregnancy," she said.  "But melanoma is the most common cancer to pass through the placenta from the mother."

About 30 percent of all mother-to-fetus cancers are melanoma, according to Hingorani, who said she has only seen four to five cases ever.

"When it is in the blood stream, it can go everywhere," she said.

Melanoma is a virulent form of skin cancer that begins in the cells that make the pigment melanin, but it can also begin in the eyes or intestines.  According to the National Cancer Institute, about 76,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and 9,100 die of the disease yearly.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Drug Promising Against Deadly Melanoma

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Richard Kaminski had an unusual mole removed from his cheek in 1998, he thought it was the end of his experience with melanoma.

But more than 10 years later, Kaminski developed a cough that didn't go away. Medical tests confirmed the diagnosis: metastatic melanoma that had spread to his lungs.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that kills 85 percent of its victims within five years if it has spread. It is responsible for about 9,000 deaths in the United States a year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Kaminski was floored. "I had this awful thing working in my lungs," he said.

Doctors treated Kaminski with a drug typically used against this form of cancer, but without success. It was only when his oncologist put him in touch with Dr. Anna Pavlick at New York University, who enrolled him in a clinical trial of a medication called vemurafenib, that he began to turn the corner on the deadly illness.

Before treatment, Kaminski recalled, "I had great difficulty breathing. I couldn't put sentences together because I couldn't get a deep breath. I had pain in my chest." Three weeks after beginning the drug, "A lot of that was greatly diminished," he said.

Within three months, Kaminski's symptoms disappeared. Scans showed his tumors starting to regress. By the end of 2010, the tumors were gone.

Kaminski, now 65, is understandably thankful.

"In two weeks, I will be two years on this drug," he said. "It was a lifeline."

On Wednesday, the results of the clinical trial in which Kaminski was enrolled appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the study conducted at 13 centers in the U.S. and Australia, researchers followed 132 patients with Kaminski's type of melanoma who had failed to respond to standard treatment. In about half of them, vemurafenib shrunk their tumors. For another third of the patients, the tumors showed no progression once the drug regimen had kicked in. Dr. Lynn Schuchter at the University of Pennsylvania, another of the study's authors, called these numbers "unprecedented."

"I've treated patients [with melanoma] for almost 25 years and never seen a drug with this kind of activity," Schuchter said. "It's so much better than the therapies that have been available to us before."

Also impressive was the improvement in survival; patients on the drug lived, on average, for an additional 15.9 months after treatment began, compared with the six to 10 months typically seen with the disease. A larger trial, also published this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the drug brought about improved survival at six months. But the authors of the new study were able to follow some of their patients much longer -- for more than a year after they'd started treatment.

For patients like Kaminski who fail standard treatment, the new drug offers hope. Unlike many other cancer drugs, vemurafenib was just as effective in patients who had failed a previous treatment as it was in patients who had received the drug right off the bat -- a rare finding when it comes to cancer treatments.

The drug is not without its limits. In targeted therapy, cancer cells can mutate slightly and stop being a target, a process called resistance. In this study, cancer tended to recur in patients after about seven months of treatment. Dr. Kelly McMasters, chairwoman of surgery at the University of Louisville who treats melanoma patients, points out, "It can cause the tumors to shrink, but they will recur on average in about six months."

That being said, McMasters said, "In some patients...vemurafenib offers the hope to shrink the tumors enough to allow [surgical removal]."

So far, resistance hasn't been an issue for Richard Kaminski. Two years into treatment, he continues to enjoy a relatively normal life. He loves to garden, although he does have to take precautions out in the sun since one of the side effects of the medication is sun sensitivity.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study: Tanning Beds Increase Risk for Deadly Skin Cancer

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new study confirms that indoor tanning increases the risk of three common skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Research published Monday by the American Association for Cancer Research tracked more than 73,000 nurses -- who were part of the Nurses’ Health Study -- during high school and college, and when the women were between 25 and 35 years old. They found that the risk of skin cancer increased 11 to 15 percent every four times the women went to a tanning salon each year. Tanning bed use during high school and college years also had a stronger effect on the increased risk for basal cell carcinoma compared with use during ages 25 to 35.

Nearly 10 percent of Americans go to tanning salons each year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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