Skin cancer vaccine being studied by local doctor

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May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and there is a big push for people to take proper precautions to protect their skin.

But what if there was a skin cancer vaccine to help keep skin cancer at bay? A local doctor has been a part of research to make that happen.

“When I got the phone call that the spot on my leg was actually Melanoma, I was actually really upset and afraid,” said Dona Sapp.

Sapp has a family history of skin cancer, but never expected she’d get Melanoma, the most dangerous kind.

“I know that I had sun damage pretty early in my life from multiple sun burns that probably increased my risk later in life,” Sapp said.

It is not available now, but someday a vaccine could help Sapp.

“Recently, we’ve learned that vaccines can play a role in cancer treatment, but this is work at its infancy,” said Dr. Douglas Schwartzentruber, MD, FACS, system medical director for IU Health Cancer Services.

It is not the typical vaccine you think of, like the one you’d get as a child to prevent illness, but something you’d take after being diagnosed, he said.

“It is called a vaccine because it actually stimulates the immune system so now we’re not directly attacking the cancer but we’re boosting the immune system to fight the cancer,” Schwartzentruber said.

He’s been working on immune therapies for years.

However, once fully developed, a vaccine likely won’t be a stand-alone way to combat cancer.

“We believe that’ll complement what chemotherapy is doing,” Schwartzentruber said.

He wouldn’t say how far off this vaccine could be from being available to consumers, only that they’ll  likely need to develop more potent vaccines and will likely need combine vaccines with other immune stimulants.

In the meantime, he insists, prevention and early detection are still key.

Here is a list of locations offering FREE skin cancer screenings this month:

  • May 22 – St. Vincent hospital – (317) 338-2273
  • May 22 – Trinity Free Clinic – (317) 338-2273
  • May 23 – Community Regional Cancer Care South – (800) 777-7775
  • May 24 – JCC (Community Center) – (317) 251-9467
  • May 29 – IU health north hospital – (317) 688-3627
  • Ongoing – Indianapolis Institute for Plastic Surgery – (317) 859-3267

For more information on skin cancer or Skin Cancer Detection Days, call the American Cancer Society at (317) 344-7800.
Little Red Door Cancer Agency is one organization that is working to educate consumers and prevent skin and other cancers. Part of that effort will take place at this year’s Big Red Bash.

The free event is Saturday, July 13th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Military Park in downtown Indianapolis. The family event is all about learning to prevent cancer. There will be a food truck rally, a children’s play zone, healthy food samples and a zip line. There will also be an attempt to break the world record for the most participants in a Zumba class. To register, visit their website.

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