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Minding Melanoma: Clinical trials

Man warns of unlicensed “clinical psychologist”
Posted at 9:52 AM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 12:53:33-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Melanoma is more common in men overall, but before age 50 the rates are higher in women than in men.

While melanoma is more common in men overall, the rates are higher in women under 50, and clinical trials are a big part of the research needed to save lives.

There’s one doctor at the University of Arizona Skin Cancer Institute who is focused on finding new therapies and treatments to help patients through the process.

Oncologist Dr. Monte Shaheen is well versed on what happens during a clinical trial and the importance of making them available to patients during treatment.

"For those who don’t benefit from standard immune or targeted therapies, we have a number of novel drugs that we offer them,” Shaheen said.

Shaheens work is part of the treatment that Wayne Griffith received when he was diagnosed with melanoma in 2004. His issues started with a mole that was diagnosed as melanoma. The mole was quickly removed, and Wayne was in the clear for 11 years.

Then fast forward to 2015, new tumors showed up on Wayne's neck and left kidney and he underwent multiple surgeries and treatments to resolve it. In 2018, doctors found even more tumors and during treatment for that diagnosis, Wayne joined a state-of-the-art clinical trial, at one point during his treatment, Wayne's son was also diagnosed and treated for melanoma.

"I entered a clinical trial to make a melanoma vaccine, so they took the tumor cells from my latest surgery, and they made a melanoma vaccine. Over the course of 18 months, I received 12 injections of a melanoma vaccine that was customized just for me.” Griffith said.

According to Dr. Shaheen, 90% of melanomas happen on the skin, but a small percentage can occur in the eye, and his team is working on ways to treat and cure it.

"We have a number of patients who had melanoma in their brain that had were cured with Immunotherapy,” Shaheen said.

Griffith has been cancer free since 2018, and is focused on getting regular scans and to make sure he’s in the clear, his next scan is scheduled for July 2021.

Meanwhile, researchers at UArizona are moving forward with a new series of clinical trials. There are also support groups available for patients who need it.

"Sometimes we give them drugs that have been proven to improve outcome reduce risk of relapse or kill the cancer cells. We have drugs approved by the FDA over the last few years we’re adding new drugs through clinical trials to this population," Shaheen said.