Melanoma is a rapidly growing and deadly skin cancer, with one of the fastest increasing incidence in the U.S. A new treatment called T-VEC has revolutionized the course of advanced melanoma treatment for thousands of patients.
Melanoma is caused when the cells that provide the tan or brown pigment in skin grow too quickly. It is dangerous because the cancer can spread to almost all parts of the body more easily than other types of skin cancer.
Melanoma is traditionally treated by cutting out the skin cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also commonly added to the treatment plan. However, these treatments are less effective as the cancer advances.
T-VEC is an option to treat almost all advanced stages of melanoma.
“We are always looking for novel treatment strategies,” said Dr. Rohit Sharma, surgical oncologist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. “We have been doing these treatments for over a year now and have been having excellent success in controlling and sometimes curing some advanced melanomas.”
How it works
T-VEC is the first treatment of its kind. It uses a virus to kill only the cancer cells, keeping normal cells safe. T-VEC is the first therapy approved by the FDA where a genetically modified virus is used for human disease.
“It is actually a special herpes virus that has been modified so that it cannot cause disease. It carries a special medicine in its genes that get incorporated into the tumor cells,” Dr. Sharma said. “When the cancer cells try to divide, this medicine will kill the cancer cells.”
A doctor will inject the treatment into the cancerous areas every two weeks for up to six months. Your doctor may provide a numbing agent to lessen the pain. After a series of shots, the melanoma starts to respond and go away.
A doctor will usually give the treatment in combination with immunotherapy to help boost the immune system to fight the cancer.
The most common side effects are flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, chills and fever. Dr. Sharma said most patients stay overnight near or at the hospital. Dr. Sharma’s patients typically stay at a place like Cattails Cottage for the first few sessions to see how they respond. Eventually, the patient can go home right after the treatment as long as they do not have any side effects.
Research is underway to see if this type of treatment works for other cancers. If you have questions, ask your doctor about T-VEC.