New vaccine could reduce melanoma recurrence

PITTSBURGH — It feels like summer is here, but with the sun comes an increased risk for skin cancer.

“I had many sunburns growing up, used tanning beds in high school and college and ended up being diagnosed with melanoma and I thought I was far too young to battle skin cancer,” said Jessica Rogowicz.

Rogowicz was just 24. She had the mole removed from her back only to have another case of melanoma on her leg four years later.

“I went 11 years cancer free and this past August, I was diagnosed again for a third time,” Rogowicz said.

Another mole, this time on her arm. Despite all the precautions, melanoma can keep recurring in patients. Rogowicz has two kids and wants to stay healthy for them.

“I use sunscreen as I should, I try to do my best to protect myself, so it was definitely a shock the second and third time I was diagnosed. Because I felt I had been careful and that I was doing my best and I didn’t understand why it was coming back,” Rogowicz said.

Now there is new hope for patients undergoing therapy to help stop the melanoma from coming back. A clinical trial focusing on a personalized vaccine is now releasing results showing the new option reduced the risk of recurrence by nearly half.

“Patients this has been tried in and will benefit are those receiving therapy that has progressed perhaps to stage four and those patients right now with the best drugs have a 50% long-term favorable outlook,” said Dr. Howard Edington with Allegheny Health Network.

Edington said it hasn’t yet been rolled out to the masses, but believes when it does, it will just be the beginning. He said this type of technology combined with therapy will help more than skin cancer.

“There are many other cancers you can invoke an immune response and it will work the story in lung cancer and colorectal cancer is another,” Rogowicz said.

May marks Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month. After Rogowicz’s second diagnosis, she started the Pittsburgh Melanoma Foundation. That organization’s annual 5K for awareness will take place this Saturday, June 3, in South Park.

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