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FDA-Approved Melanoma Drug

St. Luke's Cancer Center is First to offer FDA-Approved Melanoma Drug

Dr. Sanjiv
Agarwala

St. Luke's is the only hospital in the region to offer ipilimumab, an FDA-approved breakthrough drug for patients with late-stage melanoma

Bethlehem, PA (04/04/2011) – The Food and Drug Administration recently cleared the use of the breakthrough drug ipilimumab (ip-ee-LIM-uh-mab), the first skin cancer drug to extend life in patients with advanced melanoma. St. Luke's Cancer Center in Bethlehem became the only facility in the region to offer this drug in a compassionate use trial in July 2010 and can now continue its use today for more patients with late stage disease.

“This is a major breakthrough in melanoma treatment for patients with advanced melanoma,” says Sanjiv Agarwala, MD, Chief of Oncology & Hematology for St. Luke's Cancer Center, and an internationally recognized melanoma investigator. “Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and is often unresponsive to therapy. Before now, there were no approved treatment options for patients that improved survival. The recent FDA-approval has opened the doors to a new treatment for patients with late-stage melanoma that may extend life. We hope this is just the start of more important new therapies in the treatment of melanoma.

Dr. Agarwala previously served as a co-investigator in randomized clinical trials for melanoma with Ipilimumab and as principal investigator for the expanded access program. “The drug is exciting in that it shows the potential of harness the immune system to fight deadly diseases like metastatic melanoma,” says Dr. Agarwala.

Dr. Agarwala is involved in an immune therapy clinical trial for prostate cancer using this same drug and hopes for similar results. “We are hopeful that ipilimumab will have notable benefits for patients with advanced prostate cancer as well,” he says.

About Melanoma

More than one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. While melanoma accounts for less than five percent of all skin cancers, it is the most deadly of them. Melanoma occurs in the cells that color the skin. It may appear as a new growth or as a change in the size, shape or color of an existing mole.

Melanoma is the leading cause of skin cancer-related deaths, because it may spread to other areas of the body through the lymph or blood systems. Sixty to seventy percent of melanomas are discovered by the people who have them, so it is important to check the skin for moles that change in shape, size, color, or begin to itch or bleed. When discovered early, melanoma may be treated effectively with surgical removal.

About Dr. Agarwala

Dr. Agarwala serves as the Section Chief of Hematology and Oncology for St. Luke's Hospital & Health Network and St. Luke's Cancer Center. An internationally recognized expert in the field of melanoma and immunotherapy, he has led promising clinical trials of immunotherapy and targeted therapy in melanoma.

For more information on melanoma treatments at St. Luke's Cancer Center, contact study coordinators Denise Dianna at 610-954-3426 or Rose Cabral at 610-954-6013.