The Melanoma Hope Network, a non-profit organization, recognizes treatment centers that offer exceptional care, knowledge and compassion to patients diagnosed with advanced melanoma. Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has been named a Melanoma Center of Excellence by the organization.
When melanoma is advanced, it can be challenging to treat. Alicia Yusty, a patient at Sylvester, has been battling melanoma for several years. It started with a wound on the bottom of her foot that would not heal. A biopsy revealed it was acral lentiginous melanoma, which occurs either on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.
Mecker Moller, M.D., a surgical oncologist, performed several surgeries to resect the melanoma and reconstruct the foot, as well as remove lymph nodes in the groin where the cancer had spread.
In late 2018, the melanoma returned in the form of more than a dozen lesions on Yusty’s leg — “in transit” metastasis just beneath the surface of the skin. “Melanoma is a wild animal; it’s unpredictable sometimes,” said Dr. Moller.
Surgery was not an option for the multiple lesions, which also were not responding to immunotherapy alone. Dr. Moller is now also using a localized treatment called TVEC which stimulates the body’s immune system by injecting a genetically modified herpes virus directly into the lesions.
“It is not chemotherapy, and it’s not a vaccine,” Dr. Moller said. “What it does is basically stimulate a patient’s immune system to attack the melanoma cells.”
According to Dr. Moller, more than 95 percent of Yusty’s original lesions are gone as a result of the treatment. “When we started with the injections, that’s when we started seeing positive results,” said Yusty.
“This is a great alternative that we have now for melanoma patients that we didn’t have just a few years ago,” said Dr. Moller. “It’s exciting because we can save the patient’s extremity, and we can provide quality of life to the patient, even with loco regional advanced disease.”
TVEC was fast-tracked for FDA approval in 2015. Sylvester also offers clinical trials for advanced melanoma.