Melanoma and Skin Cancer Patient Stories

One Patient's Experience with Clinical Trials

As a lifelong California resident who enjoys working outdoors, Kevin Hearst has seen plenty of sun over the years. Still, it was a shock when a small mole on his calf turned out to be malignant in 2006.

“My primary care doctor (not a UC San Diego physician) didn’t think it was melanoma,” Hearst recalls. “When they took it out, it turned out to be malignant.” A subsequent surgery revealed that the cancer had spread to lymph nodes in his groin. After two nodes were removed, causing swelling in the affected leg, Hearst began to question his physician’s advice to have additional nodes removed.

“Just having two lymph nodes taken out, my calf swells up,” said Hearst, an accident investigator for the California Highway Patrol. “If I had all of them taken out for that leg, lymphedema would make the leg swell more and I’d be disabled.”

It was Hearst’s wife, Allyson, who recommended UC San Diego. “She used her resources to find out the best treatment would be at Moores Cancer Center. That led me to Dr. Greg Daniels as a person who specialized in melanoma.” Although Dr. Daniels suggested clinical trials as an option, Hearst adopted a more conservative wait-and-see attitude — until more moles appeared in February 2007.

Unwilling to undergo more surgery, Hearst once again visited Dr. Daniels, who mentioned a new clinical trial of OncoVEX GM-CSF, a drug that delivers both a genetically-altered cold sore virus that attacks cancer cells and a gene that spurs the body’s immune system to do the same.

After doing extensive Internet research on clinical trials, which offer free treatment and supervision for participants, Hearst agreed to join the OncoVEX trial. He received his first injections of the drug, which is placed directly into melanoma lesions, at Moores Cancer Center in May 2007, and continues to receive them every other week. By November, halfway through the trial, he had already seen lesions lessen, then disappear.

“It’s been a great experience. They treat me like family,” says Hearst of Dr. Daniels and research coordinator Trang Tran. 

Hearst hopes to raise awareness of clinical trials through UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. “There are far more trials than there are patients out there. If you’re willing to be open to do a trial and willing to educate yourself on your diagnosis and your options, you really have some control. I feel good about this.  I’m fortunate that UC San Diego had something for me.”

Learn more about clinical trials at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center.