FDA calls new melanoma treatment a breakthrough
SAN ANTONIO - July is UV Awareness Month, making it a good time to remind you that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives.
Local doctors are now revealing the research they participated in that found a breakthrough treatment for melanoma.
"Let me tell you, I watch these kids on these spring breaks, that kind of thing, and laying around in the sun," patient George Dodds says. "I said, 'Look at that. That's cancer coming on there.' They're just asking for it."
It's a lesson he learned the hard way. He's been fighting melanoma since 1962.
"My exposure started when I was called to active duty in the Air Force," Dodds says. "When you're out in places like Arizona, Morocco - you've got to be outside."
Five decades and six surgeries later, he lost his ear to melanoma. The cancer keeps spreading, most recently to his lung.
"[The doctor] said, 'This one we can't take out with surgery.' And I thought, 'Oh brother,'" Dodds remembers. "He said, 'We've got a new medicine we're going to try.'"
He works with the medical team at Next Oncology, an arm of Texas Oncology, located on the city's northwest side.
"Our goal is to advance and accelerate new drug development for the treatment of cancer," Dr. Anthony Tolcher says.
Doctors gave Dodds a new type of treatment.
"An immune therapy called Ipilimumab," Dr. Tolcher explains. "These drugs work by turning your immune system on, so they go after the cancer."
The results are so promising, the FDA calls immune therapy drugs a medical breakthrough.
"This is a fascinating turn in cancer treatment because, for the first time, we can reliably cause the immune system to attack and reject a cancer," Dr. Tolcher says.
Each scan showed the melanoma in Dodds' lung shrink, and shrink some more.
"I went back there and he said, 'It's gone,'" Dodds remembers. "And I couldn't believe it. Saved my life, I guess."
At 87, he keeps beating the odds. But take it from him: fun in the sun comes with a price.
"Cancer is a terrible disease," Dodds says.
By EMILY BAUCUM