Immunotherapy treating melanoma with success

News Nov 01, 2019 by Mark Newman Hamilton Mountain News

Geoff Linschoten looks healthy and happy.

You wouldn’t know the 52-year-old Mountain resident is battling stage four melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

It started in spring 2016 while he was on vacation in the Caribbean.

His wife found a “funky looking mole” on his back.

The mole was taken off and sent for examination.

“I got a call a couple of weeks later and they said it was melanoma,” Linschoten recalled.

By the fall the cancer had moved to his right underarm and a 15-centimeter tumour was removed after seven hours of surgery.

Then came 25 rounds of radiation treatment at the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre (JHCC), aimed at zapping any stray cells the surgery might have missed.

But the disease continued to spread.

A December CT scan confirmed the disease had spread to his liver.

He was at stage four.

It wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t much oncologists could do for someone with melanoma that had spread elsewhere in their body.

Chemotherapy had shown to have little effect and people with the disease seldom survived more than a year or two.

Stage four was essentially a death sentence.

That all changed about seven years ago with the introduction of immunotherapy, a new class of drugs designed to stimulate a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Linschoten underwent 35 sessions of immunotherapy, with the last session wrapping up nearly a year ago.

Immunotherapy is administered intravenously and takes about an hour.

He showed improvement after the first few weeks of treatments.

“The tumours in my liver not only stopped, but reduced in size and some of them went away,” Linschoten said. “I still have tumours in my liver, but they are dormant.”

Dr. Elaine McWhirter, an oncologist at the JHCC and Linschoten’s cancer doctor, said immunotherapy, which has been around in Canada since 2012, has given stage four melanoma patients a new hope.

“We’re seeing about 40 per cent of patients alive and well after four years, which is remarkable,” McWhirter said. “They are working and having a great quality of life.”

But there are side effects such as diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, rashes, headaches, difficulty breathing and joint and muscle pain.

According to the Melanoma Network of Canada, melanoma is a form of skin cancer that is on the rise in Canada and is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in people 15-29 years of age.

The disease comes in four stages.

Stage one is a superficial small spot in the skin that can be cut off by a doctor, and if caught early the survival rate is 92 to 95 per cent McWhirter said.

Stage two is a thicker melanoma that is deeper in the skin.

Stage three is when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and stage four is when it has travelled to other parts of the body.

McWhirter said we need to keep an eye on the moles on our body.

The moles are typically, flat and tan or brown. Should they get bigger, change colour, form jagged edges or start to bleed, medical assistance should be sought as soon as possible and surgery is usually the first step to removing the cancer.

Back to Geoff Linschoten, his advice to anyone with a recent melanoma diagnosis is to “stay away from Dr. Google,” get a strong support group of family and friends, seek support from groups like the Melanoma Network of Canada and trust your medical providers.

Immunotherapy treating melanoma with success at JHCC

Treatment has boosted stage 4 survival rate to 40 per cent

News Nov 01, 2019 by Mark Newman Hamilton Mountain News

Geoff Linschoten looks healthy and happy.

You wouldn’t know the 52-year-old Mountain resident is battling stage four melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

It started in spring 2016 while he was on vacation in the Caribbean.

His wife found a “funky looking mole” on his back.

The mole was taken off and sent for examination.

“I got a call a couple of weeks later and they said it was melanoma,” Linschoten recalled.

By the fall the cancer had moved to his right underarm and a 15-centimeter tumour was removed after seven hours of surgery.

Then came 25 rounds of radiation treatment at the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre (JHCC), aimed at zapping any stray cells the surgery might have missed.

But the disease continued to spread.

A December CT scan confirmed the disease had spread to his liver.

He was at stage four.

It wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t much oncologists could do for someone with melanoma that had spread elsewhere in their body.

Chemotherapy had shown to have little effect and people with the disease seldom survived more than a year or two.

Stage four was essentially a death sentence.

That all changed about seven years ago with the introduction of immunotherapy, a new class of drugs designed to stimulate a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Linschoten underwent 35 sessions of immunotherapy, with the last session wrapping up nearly a year ago.

Immunotherapy is administered intravenously and takes about an hour.

He showed improvement after the first few weeks of treatments.

“The tumours in my liver not only stopped, but reduced in size and some of them went away,” Linschoten said. “I still have tumours in my liver, but they are dormant.”

Dr. Elaine McWhirter, an oncologist at the JHCC and Linschoten’s cancer doctor, said immunotherapy, which has been around in Canada since 2012, has given stage four melanoma patients a new hope.

“We’re seeing about 40 per cent of patients alive and well after four years, which is remarkable,” McWhirter said. “They are working and having a great quality of life.”

But there are side effects such as diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, rashes, headaches, difficulty breathing and joint and muscle pain.

According to the Melanoma Network of Canada, melanoma is a form of skin cancer that is on the rise in Canada and is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in people 15-29 years of age.

The disease comes in four stages.

Stage one is a superficial small spot in the skin that can be cut off by a doctor, and if caught early the survival rate is 92 to 95 per cent McWhirter said.

Stage two is a thicker melanoma that is deeper in the skin.

Stage three is when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and stage four is when it has travelled to other parts of the body.

McWhirter said we need to keep an eye on the moles on our body.

The moles are typically, flat and tan or brown. Should they get bigger, change colour, form jagged edges or start to bleed, medical assistance should be sought as soon as possible and surgery is usually the first step to removing the cancer.

Back to Geoff Linschoten, his advice to anyone with a recent melanoma diagnosis is to “stay away from Dr. Google,” get a strong support group of family and friends, seek support from groups like the Melanoma Network of Canada and trust your medical providers.

Immunotherapy treating melanoma with success at JHCC

Treatment has boosted stage 4 survival rate to 40 per cent

News Nov 01, 2019 by Mark Newman Hamilton Mountain News

Geoff Linschoten looks healthy and happy.

You wouldn’t know the 52-year-old Mountain resident is battling stage four melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

It started in spring 2016 while he was on vacation in the Caribbean.

His wife found a “funky looking mole” on his back.

The mole was taken off and sent for examination.

“I got a call a couple of weeks later and they said it was melanoma,” Linschoten recalled.

By the fall the cancer had moved to his right underarm and a 15-centimeter tumour was removed after seven hours of surgery.

Then came 25 rounds of radiation treatment at the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre (JHCC), aimed at zapping any stray cells the surgery might have missed.

But the disease continued to spread.

A December CT scan confirmed the disease had spread to his liver.

He was at stage four.

It wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t much oncologists could do for someone with melanoma that had spread elsewhere in their body.

Chemotherapy had shown to have little effect and people with the disease seldom survived more than a year or two.

Stage four was essentially a death sentence.

That all changed about seven years ago with the introduction of immunotherapy, a new class of drugs designed to stimulate a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Linschoten underwent 35 sessions of immunotherapy, with the last session wrapping up nearly a year ago.

Immunotherapy is administered intravenously and takes about an hour.

He showed improvement after the first few weeks of treatments.

“The tumours in my liver not only stopped, but reduced in size and some of them went away,” Linschoten said. “I still have tumours in my liver, but they are dormant.”

Dr. Elaine McWhirter, an oncologist at the JHCC and Linschoten’s cancer doctor, said immunotherapy, which has been around in Canada since 2012, has given stage four melanoma patients a new hope.

“We’re seeing about 40 per cent of patients alive and well after four years, which is remarkable,” McWhirter said. “They are working and having a great quality of life.”

But there are side effects such as diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, rashes, headaches, difficulty breathing and joint and muscle pain.

According to the Melanoma Network of Canada, melanoma is a form of skin cancer that is on the rise in Canada and is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in people 15-29 years of age.

The disease comes in four stages.

Stage one is a superficial small spot in the skin that can be cut off by a doctor, and if caught early the survival rate is 92 to 95 per cent McWhirter said.

Stage two is a thicker melanoma that is deeper in the skin.

Stage three is when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and stage four is when it has travelled to other parts of the body.

McWhirter said we need to keep an eye on the moles on our body.

The moles are typically, flat and tan or brown. Should they get bigger, change colour, form jagged edges or start to bleed, medical assistance should be sought as soon as possible and surgery is usually the first step to removing the cancer.

Back to Geoff Linschoten, his advice to anyone with a recent melanoma diagnosis is to “stay away from Dr. Google,” get a strong support group of family and friends, seek support from groups like the Melanoma Network of Canada and trust your medical providers.