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Bone Marrow Transplant and Skin Cancer Patients Benefit from Photopheresis at Memorial Cancer Institute

Painless Treatment Uses Ultraviolet Light to Kill Wayward Immune Cells


November 2007 — Immediately after undergoing a double stem cell transplant in Seattle four years ago, Michele contracted graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD), a complication in which functional immune cells in the transplanted marrow attack the transplant recipient.

"My skin broke out in a rash and sores and was burning all over," she says. "I was on a lot of immunosuppressive drugs, trying different ways to get rid of the GVHD."

When the medications failed to bring about the desired results, Michele found relief by having photopheresis at Memorial Cancer Institute, the only facility in Broward to offer the procedure.

Harnessing the Power of Light

Photopheresis is a painless four-hour treatment that uses ultraviolent light to kill the offending T-cells while leaving healthy cells intact. It is effective in the treatment of GVHD as well as a form of skin cancer called cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

Michele had heard about photopheresis but knew that there weren't many machines available in Florida. Plus, after having spent seven months in Seattle while her family was in Broward, Michele didn't want to leave them yet again to undergo the treatment out of town. "I was so happy when Memorial got the photopheresis machine," she says. "I think I was the second or third patient to do it."

Michele began photopheresis at Memorial Cancer Institute in January of 2007. She is now taking fewer medications, being weaned off others, and her skin has improved. "The photopheresis has really helped," she says. "I just sit in the chair with a needle in my arm and either read a book or watch TV for four hours. I'm doing it twice a month now, but soon my visits will be monthly."

In addition to her biweekly photopheresis sessions, Michele has a weekly bloodcount performed at the office of Allen Greenberg, MD, a hematologist-oncologist on the medical staff of Memorial Regional Hospital, Memorial Hospital West, Memorial Hospital Pembroke and Memorial Hospital Miramar.

"Dr. Greenberg is wonderful," she says. "The nurses at Memorial West, where I have the photopheresis, are also great, and the whole Memorial staff is just so nice."

Demand for photopheresis has been so great that a second machine was recently installed.

"There is such a tremendous need," says Daren Grosman, MD, co-director of Memorial Cancer Institute's Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. "It has been a phenomenal success."