Although the five-year survival rate for melanoma patients is an encouraging one, for those with advanced cases, treatment is often a difficult experience. However, scientists have announced positive results for patients with advanced melanoma who underwent combination immunotherapy.
Yale University researchers presented the results of their immunotherapy trials at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, according to Medical News Today. Their findings suggest the possibility of a boost in the long-term survival rates for advanced cases.
Healthcare providers consider melanoma, a skin cancer, a particularly virulent type of malignancy. The National Cancer Institute predicts 76,100 new cases in 2014, or 4.6 percent of all new cancer cases. The agency estimates that 9,710 deaths will occur that year from melanoma. Within their lifetimes, about 2 percent of Americans will receive a diagnosis of this type of skin cancer. When treatment occurs at the early stage, the cure rate is nearly 100 percent.
The overall survival five-year survival rate for 2004 through 2010 was 91.3 percent. However, melanoma rates have been increasing for at least 30 years, and the five-year U.S. survival rate for advanced cases is 15 to 20 percent.
The appropriate type of melanoma treatment depends on how deeply the cancer has grown into the patient’s skin, whether it has spread, and the status of the patient’s overall health, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation are the most frequent treatments.
Yale researchers conducted a 1b immunotherapy trial with 127 patients who had advanced melanoma and whose disease had progressed despite an initial treatment. The trial utilized two drugs, nivolumab and ipilimumab. While some patients received a combination of the two medications, others received a single drug.
These medications are antibodies that work by blocking two pathways in the body that hide tumors. This makes it impossible for the immune system to detect them as threats and to mount an attack against them. Once these pathways have been blocked, the immune system able to react. Each drug targets a different set of cell receptors.
At the end of a year, subjects on the combination therapy overall had a 94 percent survival rate. After two years, the figure was 88 percent. These numbers encouraged the researchers to begin planning for phase 2 and 3 trials to confirm the initial results.
A separate phase 1b trial, run by Merck Sharp and Dohme Limited, utilized the drug pembrolizumab and included 411 advanced melanoma patients. This medication works the same way as the two drugs utilized in the Yale trial. At the end of a year, the overall survival rate was 69 percent. After 18 months, it was 62 percent. Scans showed after three doses of this medication, cancer had completely disappeared from one UK patient with advanced melanoma that had metastasized to his lungs.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.