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New Hope for Melanoma Patients?

Melanoma is thought to be caused by overexposure to the sun, and every year, close to 9,000 Americans die from it.

But, an experimental treatment is offering hope for patients in the final stage of the disease, reports CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes.

About half of melanoma patients carry a gene that actually promotes cancer growth, she explains. The experimental pills disrupt the gene -- causing tumors to shrink. A new study found the drug was effective in 80 percent of patients who have the gene -- and it worked for an average of seven months, giving those patients more time.

Dr. Antoni Ribas, of UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, says of the drug, "Compared to chemotherapy, it works much better in melanoma and it has less side effects."

Dr. Lynn Schuchter, University of Pennsylvania Hospital, said, "It's really the most optimistic time I've ever seen for patients with advanced melanoma."

Shirley Chance got a new hope after taking the drug. She didn't expect to be alive today.

Eleven months ago, doctors told her she had final stage skin cancer. The melanoma that started on her arm had spread -- or metastasized. Scans revealed tumors in her lungs and brain.

Chance said, "When I said, 'What are we talking about?' He said six months to a year."

Chance underwent radiation treatments but her prognosis remained grim - until she began the experimental drug.

Hughes says it's not known how long the drug will work for Chance -- but so far, it's been extremely effective. Her cancer was actually sent into remission, enabling her to see the birth of her grandson.

Chance told CBS News, "I used to wake up every day dying, I don't do that anymore. I wake up every day living."

If future testing is successful, Hughes said, the treatment could be on the market in less than two years.

Hughes added the drug is so new that it doesn' have a name yet.