Providence pushes the frontier of melanoma treatments

June 15, 2018 Providence Health Team

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Living Well Through Cancer Treatment and Beyond


Clinical trials explore the most effective melanoma treatments, including radiation and immunotherapy.

Skin cancer is very treatable when it's caught early.

Melanoma patients who call on Providence medical oncologist Brendan Curti, M.D., are very motivated. 

They know Dr. Curti is a leading researcher on how to most effectively treat advanced melanoma, or skin cancer. It’s a diagnosis that is often fatal if the disease has progressed beyond its early stages, according to the American Cancer Society. So when patients come to see him, they are usually eager to enroll in a clinical trial that is exploring the most effective treatments.

“Most patients do expect to hear about a clinical trial. They are very understanding, very supportive,” says Dr. Curti. “We are very grateful to them,” he adds, for helping to advance the research at the Providence Cancer Institute.

In some cases, the trial is a godsend. Salem dentist Chuck Howard came to see Dr. Curti in 2009 with advanced melanoma. The doctor and his team enrolled him in a trial that combined high-dose radiation with interleukin-2, a powerful immunotherapy. Today, Dr. Howard is still doing “fabulous,” says Dr. Curti, who cautions that such apparent cures occur only in a minority of melanoma patients.

Recognizing melanoma

Skin cancer is common. It occurs when skin is exposed to ultraviolet light, which is why health experts recommend you wear sunscreen, sleeves, sunglasses and hats when venturing out into direct sun. Avoiding sunburns is very important.  

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that originates in the cells that make melanin, which brings color to the skin. Most often it is detected when a person notices a change on his or her skin, whether a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in an old growth. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says you also should look for the A-B-C-D-Es of skin cancer:

  • Asymmetrical  — Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
  •  Border — Is the border irregular or jagged?
  •  Color — Is the color uneven?
  •  Diameter — Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
  •  Evolving — Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

If you or your partner see such signs on your skin, see a health care provider. Skin cancer is very treatable, especially when it’s caught early. In most cases, says Dr. Curti, a physician will remove the mole and sometimes nearby lymph nodes.

You can find a Providence provider near you in our online directory

In a minority of cases, such as Dr. Howard’s, the cancer progresses within the body with no outward signs. His melanoma was detected when a technician saw multiple tumors with an ultrasound.

Over the last decade, more treatments have been developed for advanced melanoma. And multiple studies are examining the effectiveness of treatments that involve both immunotherapy and radiation.

Much accomplished; much still to do

 Dr. Curti says his early choice to become an oncologist has been rewarded.

“When I was a young pup, I chose medical oncology because it had the greatest room for advances,” he said. Since then, “the bar has been moved. There have been tremendous advances in all areas of oncology.”

But melanoma is a stubborn case.

“Our goal should be a cure for melanoma,” he said. “The bar needs to be considerably higher.”

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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