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Study Highlights Effectiveness of Skin Cancer Drug

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The therapies were continued for one to two years, and at the end of that time the researchers found that those given the interferon alpha-2b were 33% less likely to die or have a relapse than those given the GMK vaccine. Side effects of interferon alpha-2b were generally mild and included flulike symptoms such as fatigue, fever, chills, nausea, and malaise. The results of the study are published in the latest issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

One of Kirkwood's patients, 46-year-old Mark Kosanovich, who has severe melanoma, described his experience with interferon alpha-2b at the press conference. He is in the middle of the first month of therapy with the drug, which is the most intensive portion of the treatment and thus most likely to cause problems with side effects.

"In my mind there wasn't any second choice but to go through [therapy with interferon alpha-2b]," he said, "and I'm here to say that the most severe [side effect] I've had is a headache. I've had no nausea, no sickness, I've worked every day, I conduct a normal lifestyle, and I'm in the second week of a four-week program. There are no fears of taking this, there's only benefits."

Expert Ronald B. Herberman, MD, moderated the conference, although he was not involved in the research. He said that people with high-risk melanoma "deserve [interferon alpha-2a] as the standard of care for treatment. In academic cancer centers like the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and other comparable major centers, this indeed is the standard of care. Unfortunately, it is not being used very frequently elsewhere." He is the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and a professor of medicine and pathology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Herberman says he is hopeful that this study will encourage other cancer centers to use interferon-alpha-2b more frequently or refer their patients to centers that have the expertise with the treatment.

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