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Comprehensive Melanoma Care Offered Through New UCSD Cancer Center Unit

April 18, 2000

UCSD melanoma specialists from a variety of medical disciplines are coming together under a single program to provide comprehensive care to patients at any stage of the disease. Members of UCSD Cancer Center’s new Melanoma Care Unit include medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, dermatologists, pathologists, nurses, genetic counselors and basic scientists.

Malignant melanoma is one of the most virulent and deadly types of cancer. It is one of only two major cancers increasing in incidence in the United States, and it is increasing rapidly. In 1935, lifetime risk for developing melanoma was one in 1500 among Caucasians; today, the rate has skyrocketed to one in 75. This year, at least 48,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States; in San Diego alone there will be approximately 250 new cases.

“If diagnosed and treated early, melanoma is highly curable,” said Edward F. McClay, M.D., director of the Melanoma Care Unit at UCSD Cancer Center and a respected national authority on melanoma. “Unfortunately, if it recurs, it often does so with a much more aggressive and lethal personality.”

Currently, when melanoma metastasizes, or establishes new tumor colonies in other parts of the body, there are few treatment options available. McClay and his colleagues, however, are developing new therapies that are now being tested in clinical trials at UCSD Cancer Center. Preliminary results are encouraging, and physicians in San Diego and from throughout the U.S. are referring patients to participate in these studies.

“In one study involving patients with advanced melanoma, our early (unpublished) results are proving to be about 15 to 20 percent better than the best existing treatment,” said McClay, who is also professor of medicine with UCSD School of Medicine.

In addition to having access to a variety of clinical trials, available only through UCSD, patients receive a full-body skin examination, expert evaluation of their risk for disease recurrence, and prevention education. Genetic screening and counseling are also available for patients and family members.

“This new team approach is designed to bring together all of the essential elements for excellent, comprehensive care, and to simplify and streamline the process for patients,” said McClay.“ Now, for example, a newly diagnosed patient can see a medical specialist and a surgeon in one visit and discuss various treatment options right then.”

"The program also represents one of academic medicine’s greatest strengths – innovation," says David Tarin, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UCSD Cancer Center.

“The Melanoma Care Unit includes a basic science laboratory dedicated to finding new targets for the treatment of melanoma. This is important because Cancer Center physicians are able to bring their most difficult clinical questions to the lab for extensive research,“ he said. “Likewise, the new information discovered in the laboratory is immediately available to physicians, which can lead to the design of new treatments. This active, two-way communication is critical to our ability to develop innovative treatments that hold true hope for patients.”

The Melanoma Care Unit is a patient-care service of UCSD Cancer Center, the only cancer center in San Diego and Imperial counties designated for both research and clinical care by the National Cancer Institute.

For further information about the Melanoma Care Unit, call 858-657-8705.

Media Contact: Nancy Stringer  619/543-6163


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