Vismodegib lets eyelid cancer survivor keep his vision

When Paul Skobel’s eyelid cancer returned in 2013, his local oncologist told him that he would probably lose his right eye because of the way the tumor had grown back. Paul’s right orbital bone and cheekbone would need to be removed, and the upper jaw on that side of his face might also have to be reconstructed. With the orbital bone gone, there would be no support structure for an artificial eyeball, so a skin flap would have to be taken from Paul’s thigh to cover the depression where the eye had been. “You can imagine how I felt about that,” Paul says. “I probably wouldn’t have needed a mask for Halloween.” Choosing MD Anderson Fortunately, Paul’s local radiologist gave him a reason to be hopeful. A new chemotherapy drug had just been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration the year before, and he told Paul that MD Anderson had it. “He described it as a designer drug that had shown promise with the type of basal cell cancer that I had,” Paul says. “I thought, OK, maybe I can work with this.” Paul came to MD Anderson in November of that year and met with Bita Esmaeli, M.D. She prescribed him the new drug, called Vismodegib, and told him it might be possible to save his right eye. “She didn’t promise me anything,” Paul says. “She would just say, ‘It’s possible.’” Vismodegib begins to show effectiveness Paul began taking Vismodegib every day. After three months, an MRI showed the tumor was getting smaller. “It took quite a while to be visible because the skin under my...