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UCLA Melanoma Program offers the complete range of treatments and access to investigational studies


The UCLA Melanoma Program offers diagnostic and treatment options for all stages of this cancer. The program, a multidisciplinary clinical and research effort, includes the clinical expertise of surgical, medical and radiation oncologists, dermatologists, plastic and reconstructive surgeons, neurosurgeons and ophthalmologists as well as the insights of leading research scientists.

Leading cause of skin cancer deaths

Melanoma accounts for about 4 percent of all skin cancers, but causes 80 percent of skin cancer deaths. More than 50,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year in the United States, with 8,000 people expected to die in 2007 alone. Incidence of melanoma has increased 44 percent in the last 25 years. Risk factors include:

  • Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun
  • A fair complexion
  • An excessive number of moles
  • A family history of melanoma

Dermatology and melanoma diagnosis

Primary melanomas are identifiable on inspection with the classic clinical signs of alteration in color, size, texture, border irregularity, ulceration and bleeding. Biopsy of suspicious moles is the first line of defense and most moles can be removed taking just a small amount of tissue. Larger lesions can be examined with a punch biopsy, a technique that samples through all the layers of the skin. The UCLA Pigmented Lesion Clinic provides comprehensive diagnostic services for all types of cutaneous lesions.

Surgical interventions

When cutaneous lesions are removed, surgeons excise a surgical margin around the primary site to ensure no cancer cells remain. Melanoma is most dangerous when it spreads to the lymph nodes, which occurs in about 20 percent of patients. Removing all patients’ lymph nodes as a precaution is not warranted as the procedure carries the risk of complications. Using a technique called lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy originally developed at UCLA and subsequently adopted internationally, surgeons remove and biopsy lymph nodes where cancer is known to appear first – the sentinel nodes – to determine if the melanoma has spread to other nearby lymph nodes. Sentinel nodes can be identified and biopsied in 99 percent of patients and provide crucial staging information about the aggressiveness of the cancer.

Medical oncology

The program’s oncology team focuses on experimental therapies arising from discoveries made in UCLA’s research laboratories. Treatment options range from adjuvant treatment of completely resected melanomas to decrease likelihood of recurrence to treating metastatic melanomas that can no longer be surgically removed. Eligible patients can participate in clinical trials of new melanoma treatments.

UCLA has one of the largest high-dose IL-2 programs in the country. Improved understanding of the biology of melanoma, including discovery of mutations in key genes that regulate cancer cell growth, has led to a new generation of targeted therapies being tested in patients.

Current clinical trials

  • Phase I study of MART-1 dendritic cell vaccines and CP-675,206, a fully human monoclonal antibody that blocks CTLA4.
  • Phase III study of CP-675,206, a fully human monoclonal antibody that blocks CTLA4 and engages the immune system.
  • Phase II study of CP-675,206 in advanced melanoma to determine the mechanism of action and resistance. The goal is to develop biomarkers to predict which patients will benefit from this therapy.
  • Phase II study of volociximab, a monoclonal antibody thought to bind to proteins on tumor and blood vessel cells. It is believed to slow tumor growth and prompting tumor cell death by preventing new blood vessels from developing.
  • Phase I study of PD-0325901, a new investigational drug that works by blocking specific growth signals within cancer cells.
  • Phase II study of OncoVex-GMCSF, a gene therapy based on a crippled Herpes virus injected directly into melanoma metastasis with the goal of inducing an immune response.

Team leaders

James S. Economou, M.D.
Chief, Division of Surgical Oncology
Director, UCLA Human Gene Medicine Program

John Glaspy, M.D.
Director, UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Clinical Research Unit

Antoni Ribas, M.D.
Associate Director, UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Tumor Immunology Program
Director, UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Cell and Gene Therapy Core Facility

Patient referral

(310) 917-3376  dermatology appointments
(310) 794-4955  medical oncology appointments
(310) 825-2644  surgical oncology appointments
(310) 794-6892 or (310) 794-6913  melanoma clinical trials information

Web resource


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