PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Melanoma is the most common form of cancer, and everyday thousands of people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease. Now, there's new found hope for those with stage 4 of the cancer.
A southern California native, Steve Sims grew up enjoying the outdoors, knowing little at the time about the dangers of spending hours in the sun.
"When I was a kid there was no sun block. When I was a kid, you'd go to the beach and use baby oil cause you wanted a tan," Sims said.
Then in September 2011, a doctor diagnosed him with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. After undergoing several chemotherapy treatments, his prognosis looked dim.
"He said I have stage 4 cancer and the chemo couldn't get rid of it, and another round, or at that time just radiation wouldn't have just necessarily helped," he said.
The average survival rate for advanced melanoma without treatment is just months. Every year 9,500 people in the U.S. die from the disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and accounted for more than 76,000 cases in 2013 alone.
Then, a glimmer of hope, in the name of a drug called "yervoy," a drug considered a medical breakthrough, recently approved by the FDA. The drug long tested during clinical trials showing promising results for those with stage 4 melanoma.
"It's a medicine that's very unique in that it stimulates the immune system and allows your system [to] fight off the melanoma cancer cells," Dr. Luke Dreisbach, an Oncologist at Desert Hermatology and Oncology Medical Group in Rancho Mirage said.
He had Sims undergo the treatment.
"He says that PET scan showed that you have absolutely no trace of the melanoma whatsoever, they couldn't find it," Sims said.
Dr. Dreisbach said each patient may respond differently, but he's now seeing people go into remission for up to 5 years. Still, he said there is more to learn.
"We're even learning should it be repeated? There's a whole educational process physicians are going through in terms of using this new medicine," Dreisbach said.
Sims said he can only be thankful to be alive.
"You have no idea and I thank my lucky stars to a lot of people everyday," Sims said.