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Fox Chase Cancer Center Names Dr. Stuart Lessin Director of Dermatology to Head Multi-Specialty Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program

PHILADELPHIA (May 11, 2000) -- Dr. Stuart R. Lessin of Haverford, Pa., has been appointed director of dermatology in the medical oncology department of Fox Chase Cancer Center. He leads multi-specialty diagnostic and treatment programs for melanoma-a potentially life-threatening skin cancer-as well as other cancers of the skin. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers.

Lessin works closely with plastic surgeons and surgical oncologists at Fox Chase to evaluate and treat people with skin cancer. He is collaborating with medical oncologists to develop clinical trials of chemotherapy and preventive agents for melanoma patients at high risk of recurrence.

Lessin will also direct a Melanoma Risk-Assessment Program for families with a history of the disease. A person with one or more first-degree relatives (parent, brother, sister, child) who have been diagnosed with melanoma has a risk of melanoma up to eight times greater than those without a family history of the disease. The new program is expected to open before fall.

Melanoma is Lessin's primary focus because it is the most serious form of skin cancer. In fact, his interest in melanoma during medical school prompted him to enter the field of dermatology.

Rates of melanoma in the United States have doubled since the 1970s. An estimated 47,700 new patients with melanoma will be diagnosed and about 7,700 Americans are expected to die of this cancer during 2000, according to the American Cancer Society.

Half the cases occur after age 50, but people as young as 20 are also at risk. Melanoma is now one of the most common cancers affecting Americans younger than 30.

Unless detected early, melanoma can spread from the skin to other parts of the body. Unlike other skin cancers, melanoma arises in pigmented cells-those containing melanin, such as moles. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, tanning lamps and tanning booths is the primary cause of melanoma and other skin cancers.

Another predisposing trait is an increased number of moles and an increased number of atypical moles. Someone who has one or more atypical moles and two close relatives with melanoma has a 50 percent or greater risk of developing this cancer.

"Although most cases of melanoma appear to be sporadic and associated with overexposure to the sun, about 10 percent run in families," Lessin pointed out. "Within these families, specific inherited genetic mutations can be identified." The risk-assessment program will provide these families with screening and monitoring.

According to Lessin, nonmelanoma skin cancers are usually basal-cell and squamous-cell cancers. They tend to remain on the surface of the skin, especially basal-cell tumors. The earlier these cancers are diagnosed, the less treatment they require.

"Well over 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers respond to surgery," Lessin said. "Complicated or advanced cases may require a combination of surgery and radiation therapy or chemotherapy."

A few rare nonmelanoma skin cancers require special expertise in diagnosis and treatment. These include some forms of lymphoma-a cancer of the immune cells that generally attacks lymph nodes and internal organs. Lymphomas that begin mostly or entirely in the skin are called primary cutaneous lymphomas. The least rare of these is cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

Lessin has a special interest in cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, which can be difficult to diagnose. Patients may have localized or extensive thickening or redness of the skin and may develop skin tumors.

"A skin biopsy is necessary to diagnose this disease, but sometimes it cannot be recognized under ordinary microscopic studies," explained Lessin. "Often we need to do special studies of the biopsy sample to reach a final diagnosis."

Lessin is developing new strategies of prevention for this rare cancer.

"New classes of topical retinoids-vitamin A based compounds-may provide us with new nontoxic therapies for patients with precursor lesions who are at highest risk for developing cutaneous T-cell lymphoma," he said. "We're planning a pilot study to test one of these agents."

In addition to seeing patients at Fox Chase Cancer Center's main campus, Lessin will schedule appointments on Wednesday mornings at the Fox Chase Medical Offices in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

He will conduct a free skin cancer screening at the Fox Chase Bryn Mawr office, by appointment only, on Saturday, June 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. [Note: The Bryn Mawr office is now closed.]

Lessin will also conduct a free skin cancer screening in Fox Chase Cancer Center's new Prevention Pavilion on Monday, June 12 from 4 to 8 p.m., again by appointment only. For screening appointments at Fox Chase, call 215-728-2570.

Lessin is a professor of dermatology at Temple University School of Medicine. He serves as chief of the division of dermatology in the department of medicine.

Before joining Fox Chase, Lessin was co-director of the pigmented-lesion group at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and director of the melanoma core facility at the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center. He had also served as director of the molecular diagnostic laboratory for Penn's department of dermatology and co-director of the department's cutaneous lymphoma center.

He received his M.D. at Temple University School of Medicine in 1982 and served his residency in HUP's department of dermatology, where he was chief resident in 1986. Dr. Lessin completed a research fellowship in 1987 at the Wistar Institute.

Board-certified in dermatology, Lessin is a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and a member of the Society for Investigative Dermatology and International Society for Cutaneous Lymphomas. In 1999, he received a National Institutes of Health mid-career investigator award in patient-oriented research. He serves as a reviewer for a number of professional journals.

Lessin is married to Karen G. Lessin. They have one son, Benjamin, age 14, and one daughter, Allison, 12. Skiing and golfing are Stuart Lessin's favorite leisure activities-while wearing sunscreen, of course.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, one of the nation's first comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute in 1974, conducts basic and clinical research; programs of prevention, detection and treatment of cancer; and community outreach. For more information about Fox Chase activities, visit the Center's web site at:

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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