Genetics in Melanoma (Case Study)

Nov 26 2012

Peter Lynn

Good timing, good luck and good medicine have, so far, been powerful allies in 67-year-old Peter Lynn’s battle to survive melanoma. His son David, however, perished from the disease just over two years ago.

Barely six weeks after David’s funeral, Peter and his wife planned a European holiday to clear their heads. Peter underwent a vascular ultrasound to ward of concerns about Deep Vein Thrombosis on a long flight.

Unexpectedly, it revealed a metastatic melanoma that had been sitting in his lymph nodes.

The trip was off and within a week Peter had undergone three operations to remove the majority of his lymphatic systems.

Two tumours lurking near his heart were deemed inoperable.

At his three monthly check-up Peter’s surgeon mentioned a new clinical drug trial. By coincidence, Peter had heard about it the day before while visiting his lymphoedema physiotherapist at the Calvary Mater. The drug is targeted specifically at “BRAF-positive” melanoma … Peter had a 50 per cent chance of being a candidate and again he was lucky.

“I’ve been on the trial almost two years. In my case the tumours shrunk by 60 per cent in the first five weeks and I’ve had no new ones,” he said.

Peter predominantly worked indoors in his accountancy days. He always wore long trousers and shirts and hats when playing golf or going boating. David, 38, was a musician and a mechanic, so he too was rarely burnt.

“The take-home message is for people to get checked,” said Dr Nikola Bowden, an NHMRC Post-doctoral Fellow in the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Health.

“You cannot rely on staying out of the sun as being protective against melanoma.”

Dr Bowden warns that the drug currently only has one purpose. When the melanoma reboots it’s not BRAF any more – it goes down another untreatable pathway.

“At the moment the drug prolongs survival but the melanoma tends to develop resistance. Nine months has been the average survival time so Peter is doing well,” she said.

“My goal is to develop something for the other 50 per cent who don’t have the BRAF mutation. We’re also working on developing better prognostic markers to give people a more accurate prediction of lifespan.”

Peter remains in awe of the research work being done.

“My granddaughter turned 16 last week and my grandson is 14. They have a 70 to 75 per cent chance of getting melanoma, simply because they essentially have the same fair skin as previous generations.

“To me it’s about insuring that somebody does something to help them.”