Skin Deep

Top Hospitals and Healthcare 2016: New treatments from Inova’s Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center.

From left: Jeff Harvell, M.D., Suraj Venna, M.D., Lana Bijelic, M.D., Sekwon Jang, M.D., Sue Frank, R.N., Reza Mirali, M.D., Chris Chuang, M.D., Kirit Bhatt, M.D., Patty Lee, M.D., Rebecca Stephenson, R.N., Lanika Singleton.

Photo by Roger Foley

It’s a good time to be a dermatologist—especially for those who work with advanced melanoma patients. “We were at a standstill for nearly 40 years. Now all of a sudden we have medications that are actually controlling the disease and we’re seeing cures of patients with late stage disease,” says Dr. Suraj Venna. “It’s an important and exciting time to be in the field.”

Venna, a national speaker and president of the Washington D.C. Dermatological Society, is director of the Inova Schar Cancer Institute’s Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center in Fairfax, a multidisciplinary skin cancer screening, prevention and treatment program. The center opened in 2014, and is the only one of its kind in the region. “We’ve assembled dermatologists, oncologists, surgeons and pathologists who all have a niche in melanoma and skin cancer,” says Venna. 

The team sees patients with melanoma, advanced non-melanoma skin cancers (squamous and basal cell carcinomas), and rarer skin cancers such as Merkel cell carcinoma and various skin lymphomas. Treatments are dictated by the stage of disease and range from surgical removal to laparoscopic lymph node dissections, and in advanced cases, systemic immunotherapies and clinical trials. 

A patient with a melanoma diagnosis is referred to the center’s multidisciplinary clinic. “The patient is seen by a number of specialists all in one morning. It may end up being two hours that the patient is there,” says Venna. “We try to take what can be a scary diagnosis and arm the patient with information, so that by the time they walk out of the door, our goal is for them to have less anxiety—to know what they’re dealing with and have heard the next steps.”

Medical oncologist Dr. Sekwon Jang leads the center’s immunotherapy program for advanced disease. In the past six years, research and rapid drug approval has led to a blossoming for systemic treatments like immunotherapy. “The basic principle in immunotherapy is that these medications unleash your immune cells that then attack the melanoma,” says Venna. The medication is received by infusion, every two or three weeks at the clinic. Side effects for the targeted therapy can include rashes, colitis, hypophysitis (adrenal insufficiency) and autoimmune skin conditions like psoriasis and vitiligo. 

One patient in her 50s arrived to the clinic with multiple nodules under her skin—all of them found to be metastatic melanoma. “We put her on a double immunotherapy combination,” explains Venna. Although she had side effects, the treatment proved effective. “She’s had complete resolution of her disease.”

More than 30 patients have received immunotherapy at the clinic. Although the treatment is relatively new, “We’re seeing disease stabilization and improving survival rates,” says Venna.

Dermatology News

This fall, the department of dermatology at Virginia Commonwealth University opened a new location at Stony Point in Richmond. The 60,000-square-foot building will allow the department to increase the number of team members with dermatologic subspecialties. 

Dr. Robert S. Baer, of Pariser Dermatology Specialists (with locations statewide), has established an online dermatology practice called Intelederm. Although other teledermatology practices do exist in other locations around the country, Dr. Baer designed Intelederm to offer localized care should patients require in-person follow-up. The Intelederm website connects patients with board certified Virginia-based dermatologists regarding any skin concerns they may have, from acne to sun spots.

Dr. Janet Hickman, of Dermatology Consultants in Lynchburg, was appointed to the board of directors for the American Academy of Dermatology in March. Hickman received the prestigious Rose Hirschler award for outstanding contribution to the fields of medicine and dermatology in 2008.

UVA School of Medicine researchers have discovered that the experimental drug Pevonedistat works to stop the spread of melanoma and can treat other forms of cancer by inhibiting certain cellular proteins that cancer cells rely on to reproduce. The team’s findings were published in the scientific journal EBioMedicine

Dermatology Top Honors 2016

Martha Jefferson Hospital
Charlottesville,, 434-645-7000

Carilion Clinic
Roanoke,, 540-981-7000

UVA Medical Center
Charlottesville,, 434-924-0211

Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters
Norfolk,, 757-68-7000

Virginia Hospital Center
Arlington,, 703-558-5000

See all of our top hospitals and healthcare news for 2016, below.

LewisGale Regional Cancer Center
UVA Cancer Center

VCU Pauley Heart Center

EVMS and Sentara Heart Hospital

Centra Lynchburg General Hospital

Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging

Bon Secours St. Mary's

Carilion Clinic 
June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum