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Doctors using herpes virus to treat patient with melanoma tumor

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    PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Paul Kirsch, of Green Tree, had a melanoma removed from the back of his neck. Years later, a lump appeared under his arm. The cancer had spread.

“Of all the skin cancers to get, this is the one you wouldn’t want to get, because this one has a bit of a bad attitude,” Allegheny Health Network cancer surgeon Dr. Howard Edington said. “It likes to spread places.”

Kirsch, a former Marine, wasn’t discouraged.

“We didn’t want to have any treatment that made him sick or symptomatic,” his daughter Jennifer Kirsch said. “He has no pain. He has no symptoms.”

With lumps of tumor in other parts of the body, Kirsch was a good candidate for a new treatment, an injection made with a herpes virus to attack the tumor.

“A virus that we know a lot about, a virus they can manipulate with genetic engineering techniques, and a virus that if things went bad, that they would have a treatment for,” Dr. Edington says about the weakened herpes virus.

“He injects it into the tumor under my arm,” Kirsch said. “You think about getting an injection of any kind in an armpit, and it kind of gives you the shivers a bit.”

The virus enters only the melanoma cells and kills them. It also releases immune system proteins to boost the body’s fight against the cancer.

“It’s like getting a vaccination shot. Actually, it is a vaccination of sorts,” says Dr. Edington. “It treats not only the lesion you’ve injected, but much more important usually, are the lesions that you can’t see.”

Kirsch will have the treatment for six months.

“I’ve had nine injections; every other week I get the injection. There are no side effects. Absolutely none. No pain, no oozing,” he said.

Dr. Edington says potential side effects are similar to a vaccine: fatigue, joint pain, low grade fever.

It can take months to see results.

Kirsch started in November.

“The site of the tumor was about as big as an olive. Now it’s smaller than a raisin,” he says.

He’s had no insurance issues.

“Some of these things are $14-, $15-, $16,000. I’m astounded by what the charges are for this stuff, and I didn’t even have a copay,” said Kirsch.

Dr. Edington says when the injection is combined with other melanoma treatments, such as immunotherapy, the benefit is greater than with either one alone.

Kirsch and his family are thrilled with the results.

“When you’re 87, longevity is a big thing,” he says.

“He’ll tell you, I just have a little touch of cancer,” says his daughter.

He hopes his experience helps other people.

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