Baptist Health melanoma trial showing promise
March 19, 2014 | Jacksonville, FL
Scott Nelson was on a family vacation on Florida’s west coast in the summer of 2012 when his wife noticed an irregularly shaped mole on his left shoulder while applying sunscreen.
After a biopsy by his dermatologist, he found out it was melanoma. Further testing of his lymph nodes and surrounding skin were negative. But about nine months later, a swollen lymph node under his left arm led to a diagnosis of Stage 4 metastatic melanoma.
Nelson, 37, of Jacksonville, found out about a clinical trial by Troy Guthrie Jr., MD, medical director of Research and Education at the Baptist Cancer Institute. He is leading several clinical trials for melanoma at the Baptist Cancer Institute.
Further scans to qualify for the study revealed Nelson’s cancer had spread to nodules in his lungs. Since starting the trial in August, CT scans are showing Nelson’s cancer is in remission, Dr. Guthrie said.
“He’s gone from feeling ill and having pain to feeling normal. He’s an outstanding success,” Dr. Guthrie said.
The trial involves two drugs, ipilimumab and nivolumab, which are administered through an IV infusion about every other week and help the body fight off the cancer.
“Sometimes cancer cells become smart and hide from the normal immune system. These two drugs make the cancer more recognizable to the immune system,” Dr. Guthrie said. “Your body recognizes it and makes antibodies to attack the cancer.”
Nelson and four other people are currently enrolled in the study by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which Dr. Guthrie said is the only one of its kind in Florida. The patients are either taking one or both of the medications.
While this trial is no longer accepting patients, Dr. Guthrie has two other trials for melanoma that are open. One of the trials that is open is for patients who have had melanoma removed but are at high risk of the disease coming back. Another trial is for a melanoma vaccine, which is given through an injection directly into the melanoma, lymph node or fatty tissue.
The main side effect for Nelson on his trial has been some of his dark hair is turning white since the medication sometimes causes loss of pigment in a patient’s skin and hair. The first four weeks he also had flu-like symptoms. After the fourth week, he said he felt fine and the lump under his arm completely went away.
He continues with IV infusion as part of the trial. Nelson, who sells medical equipment and is married with two children, is back to playing in two adult football leagues and coaching his son’s baseball and flag football team.
“Everything is back to normal,” he said. “Dr. Guthrie is amazing. He saved my life. This has been a huge answer to our prayers.”
While he wasn’t always cautious in the sun, he’s a strong advocate now to his friends about getting checked regularly by a dermatologist and he now wears special protective SPF clothing and sunscreen.
“I tell my family and friends to go see a dermatologist. It won’t hurt you. If they find something, it could save your life,” Nelson said.
For more information on the melanoma clinical trials at Baptist, call 904.202.7051.