A small slice of the latest in cancer research

Once in a while I use this forum for what it is meant to be – a blog on cancer, not just a running T.J. diary. In my opinion, blogs are useful because they are short thoughts about relevant information, usually with corresponding links. So without further ado, here is a small slice of what is going on in the cancer world and locally.

Remember how there are two versions of PD-1 out in trial?  Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb are competing to be the first company to market their drugs, and although Merck had clearly taken the lead to get pembrolizumab approved for metastatic melanoma, BMS’s nivolumab got its trade name and an earlier-than-expected market approval objective.  This puts it nearly on pace with the Merck drug, and means there will likely be two drugs on the market before you start seeing Christmas stuff in Target (i.e. October). BMS was able to accelerate their pace, in part, because its Phase III trial of the drug was cut short when interim data showed the drug had clear benefit over chemotherapy.  In this case, short equals good, and the control patients will now get the PD-1 antibody.

Check out this interesting quick read from a Jamaican news site – JAMAICA MON! – that speaks to a few lesser-known melanoma details, especially in regards to skin type.  The risk is significantly less in non-Caucasians (although I could not verify the accuracy of their numbers), but the downside is those of Asian, Black, and Hispanic heritage tend to get diagnosed with later-stage melanomas.  The survival rates and life expectancies plummet as the disease spreads – if Bob Marley can succumb to melanoma, then you and I can too.  Darker-skinned friends, please don’t take it for granted that genetics will keep you safe from the sun (and no, “darker-skinned” does not mean my Italian friends who tanned on the beach all summer).

Speaking of sitting in the sun all summer, did you know that Washington State ranks among the highest incidents of melanoma in the nation, despite being one of the cloudiest states? That has serious implications, especially for sun exposure to children, according to this article from Spokane.

Think that doesn’t apply to you?  Miami/Orlando/Tampa take the top three spots and Philly checks in at No. 13 for “partially cloudy days.” Ever been on vacation down here in Florida, or at the shore and neglected the sunscreen or hat because it was a cloudy day?  Yea, I got those “well, it wasn’t sunny when we left the house” tans/burns too.  Hasn’t worked out so well for me, has it? 

Local stories are always good, unless they are about other young melanoma patients — then the stories kind of suck. The exception is when you can see strength and hope in other patients, like Tara Miller from Longport (pictured above).  She has had a much more difficult road than me, and is handling it with the attitude of a champ.  Listen to her speech from the “Make The Best of It Bash.”

Every time I see another cancer warrior conduct themselves with strength and grace – much less starting a melanoma fundraising foundation to further research – it revives my desire to get more involved, to help more people, to overcome those long odds. In Miller’s words, “fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”  

Another local story I encountered during my San Diego trip was a woman helping patients navigate the healthcare system.  Sandra Khalil of Hatfield established CrossLinkMed.org to assist local families get the necessary care needed for cancer and other serious illnesses.  She was featured in the Inquirer in November, and has continued to push for better care for underserved communities. To learn more about the organization, listen to Sandra’s interview from the DIA conference.

But now, it’s time for infusion No. 20-something, followed by a trip to MD Anderson next week and, likely, adrenal removal surgery the week after that, then another infusion and scans the week after that one.  Let’s go slay that dragon, one step at a time.



T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »