Doctors Recognized for Treating 97-Year-Old Woman’s Squamous Cell Cancer with HPV Vaccine

May 17, 2019

by: Janet Begley

A Port St. Lucie dermatologist was recognized for his approach in treating a 97-year-old woman’s squamous cell skin cancer tumors with the human papillomavirus. (Photo: Getty Images / iStockphoto)

PORT ST. LUCIE — A Treasure Coast dermatologist has been recognized by the Journal of the American Medical Association for his treatment of squamous cell cancer with the human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil 9.

Dr. Tim Ioannides, from Treasure Coast Dermatology in Port St. Lucie; along with Dr. Anna Nichols, a dermatologist and an assistant professor in the Dr. Phillip Frost Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami Comprehensive Cancer Center, published a study in 2018 in which a 97-year-old woman’s squamous cell skin cancer tumors disappeared after she was injected with the HPV vaccine.

The patient recently celebrated her 100th birthday without a relapse.

The paper, co-written by Nichols, Ioannides and Drs. Robert Kirsner and Evangelos Badiavas, was so popular on the JAMA Dermatology website that it earned “Most Talked About” honors for 2018, just one of 10 selected for the recognition.

Nichols released a case report that showed the HPV vaccine reduced skin cancer growth in two patients. Along with voluntary faculty member Ioannides, who proposed the idea, Nichols decided to take a chance on the “off-label” treatment by injecting the vaccine directly into the tumors.

Off-label treatments have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for that particular type of cancer.

The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends children 11 or 12 years old begin the series of three HPV vaccinations. The series can be started at as young as age 9. (Photo: Danese Kenon / The Star 2007 file photo)

“I think we had a really reasonable expectation and good data that this was actually going to, at the very least, do no harm to this patient and possibly provide some benefit,” Ioannides said. “To have this type of result in such an advanced patient, I think, was beyond all our expectations.”

The patient was not a candidate for surgery or radiotherapy because of the number and size of the tumors on her right leg. There were few treatment options left for her.

Initially, the patient received two injections of the vaccine in her arm. Later, it was injected directly into the tumors, and within months, the tumors began to disappear. Within one year, all of the squamous cell skin cancer tumors were gone.

“Among other things, the before-and-after pictures of our patient are unbelievable,” said Nichols. “You don’t need statistical analysis to appreciate the improvement. First, you see tumors all over her leg and then zero. Not a 20 percent reduction but a 100 percent reduction.”

The HPV shot already has revolutionized the prevention of a wide range of cancers — cervical, genital and oral — with which the virus has been strongly linked. But there’s been little study on its use as a treatment for existing tumors, Nichols said, and she’s about to begin a clinical trial using the off-label vaccine treatment with several other patients.

The study has received a $25,000 grant from The Skin Cancer Foundation.

“We are still in the infancy stage,” said Nichols. “We know the treatment works in some people, but finding out how it works and for whom it works best is challenging. But if Tim Ioannides hadn’t tried this radical new approach, I don’t know where we would be.”

The University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center has documented the patient’s treatment and recovery. To read the study, visit JAMA Medical Journal.

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