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Experimental cancer drug boosts immune system to fight melanoma

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.  If caught early on the skin, it can be treated successfully with surgery, but if it spreads inside the body, it can be hard to treat.

"Traditionally, that has been an incurable development. So those patients traditionally will pass away within the first two years of that," said Dr. Alan Bryce of the Mayo Clinic.

But this new drug, known as MK-3475, is giving doctors and patients like Dale Fadley hope.

"20 years ago, I had my first melanoma."

In 2012, the cancer returned -- this time it was worse.

Fadley, of Gold Canyon, remembers when his doctor told him he'd be part of the trial.

"Got a little emotional because it was something I needed.  It was an opportunity," he said.

The drug works by boosting the patient's immune system -- essentially giving the patient's own body an edge in destroying the cancer cells.

"MK-3475 is the latest in the new drugs to come along that we believe gives us real potential to keep patients alive for many years," said Bryce.

Right now, the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale is the only place in Arizona using the drug.

"It is not a surprise at all that it has turned out to work as well as it has," said Dr. Peter Cohen.  "About 50 percent of patients with melanoma can be expected to have a major response to the treatment."

Those who are interested in participating or to see if they are qualified to participate can call the Mayo Clinic at 480-301-9875.


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