April 20, 1997

Media Contacts: Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 - sgoodwi@emory.edu
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371 - covnic@emory.edu

The Melanoma and Pigmented Lesion Center in Emory University's Winship Cancer Center is offering new treatment, research and education programs that are benefiting both melanoma patients and the community, as well as advancing scientific knowledge about the disease.

Emory melanoma experts in surgery, oncology and dermatology, well known for treating advanced cases of melanoma, established the multidisciplinary center in 1994 to deliver comprehensive care, conduct cutting edge research, communicate effective prevention skills and ensure early detection through close follow-up.

The center is the only one of its kind in the Southeast. It serves three groups of patients: those who have had a melanoma diagnosed; those who have dysplastic nevus syndrome (many abnormal moles and a family or personal history of the syndrome), which places them at risk for melanoma; and those referred by their primary physicians for consultation for a particular lesion.

Over the past 20 years the rate of deaths from melanoma has risen an alarming 60 percent, more than any other kind of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. This means that while in 1935 only 1 in 1,500 people developed the disease, by the year 2,000 the lifetime risk is likely to be 1 in 75. The American Cancer Society predicts that about 40,300 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 1997, and that 7,300 people will die from the disease. And, although the risk for many kinds of cancer increases with increasing age, the median age for patients with melanoma is in the low 40s, and seems to be decreasing.

Each new patient who visits Emory's Melanoma and Pigmented Lesion Center becomes part of a team approach to treatment. The center's three main patient care areas are dermatologic oncology, surgical oncology and medical oncology. All are located in the Winship Cancer Center (Clinic Building B).

"There are times that a patient needs to be seen in all three areas," explains Emory dermatologist and Melanoma and Pigmented Lesion Center Director Barbara Rock, M.D. "A patient with a melanoma may first need surgery, then chemotherapy, for example. He or she also may have lesions that need to be evaluated in dermatology, or he or she may have a family member who has multiple moles that need to be checked." Surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, dermatologists, pathologists, physician assistants and other participants hold a weekly melanoma conference to discuss individual cases.

Early treatment of melanoma is essential, Dr. Rock emphasizes.

"If you detect problems early, the chance of cure is much higher. Thin melanomas which are discovered early are usually curable through surgical removal." The five-year survival rate for localized malignant melanoma is 91 percent, but with more advanced disease the treatment becomes much more complex, and may involve removal of lymph nodes, chemotherapy and sometimes immunotherapy.

Warning signs that a mole might be malignant include a sudden or continuous enlargement, a change in the mole's surface (scaling, bleeding, itching, pain), asymmetry in a mole, irregular borders, uneven coloring, or a mole greater than 6 millimeters in diameter. Individuals at greatest risk for malignant melanoma are those with a family or personal history of melanoma, a light complexion, multiple or abnormal moles, and a blistering sunburn early in life.

The center's data management system makes it easy to follow each patient as well as to provide information for use in research. All patients who are treated for melanoma, as well as patients at particular risk for melanoma because of a personal or family history of the disease or dysplastic nevus syndrome, are followed closely. Patients with abnormal moles are photographed when they are first seen at Emory so that any changes may be noticed and treated promptly.

"We realize that careful observation is essential for patients who have had melanoma or those at a higher risk for melanoma," says Dr. Rock.

Both clinical and basic science research are important components of the Melanoma and Pigmented Lesion Center. Emory medical and surgical oncologists already participate in multi-center clinical trials for treating melanoma. In the laboratory, basic scientists are in the process of developing new immunotherapy protocols, including the possible use of a melanoma vaccine. The center is encouraging new melanoma research at Emory by providing seed grants for basic science research.

The Melanoma and Pigmented Lesion Center has a strong educational program, including physician training in melanoma treatment, community education, and a lecture series by melanoma experts for physicians and other health care personnel. The annual Zachary Brown Softball Tournament, scheduled this year for May 16 and 17, benefits melanoma research at Emory and features melanoma screenings by Emory physicians.

Patients with melanoma or dysplastic nevus syndrome, or their physicians, may call the Melanoma and Pigmented Lesion Center at 778-7777 (778-4797 within Emory).

For more general information on The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center, call Health Sciences News and Information at 404-727-5686, or send e-mail to hsnews@emory.edu.

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