The first large-scale human testing has begun to see if a new type of vaccine can reduce recurrence of malignant melanoma, a potentially deadly skin cancer striking one out of every 128 Americans, it was announced Friday.
Dr. Marc K. Wallack of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach said testing there and at M.D. Anderson Hospital at Houston, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Duke University at Durham, N.C., Emory University at Atlanta and the University of Florida at Gainesville will determine whether the vaccine can reduce the rate of recurrence."The melanoma vaccine does not prevent cancer, but given after surgery, it could prevent the recurrences that often prove fatal," Wallack said.
Pinya Cohen, vice president for regulatory affairs at Merieux Institute, which makes the vaccine, said the company is "cautiously optimistic" about the vaccine. "We don't want to present it as something that is safe and effective yet. It has to be put to the test. That is what the clinical trial will do."
Joann Schellenbach, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, said the announcement was "good news because melanoma is such a deadly cancer, and we've been experiencing . . . an epidemic in the last few years."
Schellenbach said Americans' increased exposure to ultraviolet rays in sunlight had boosted the lifetime chance of getting melanoma from 1 in 1,500 in 1930 to 1 in 128 today. If the trend continues, the risk will be 1 in 90 by the year 2000.
If detected very early, as a small, shallow, molelike growth, melanoma is effectively treated with surgery, and about 90 percent of patients are cured.