Treating melanoma with immunotherapy is changing patients’ lives.
Immunotherapy is a groundbreaking treatment for certain types of cancer that has already saved and improved the lives of many patients and their families. This cancer treatment refers to a variety of medicine types, such as vaccines and checkpoint inhibitors, that rev up the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells more effectively. (Here’s more information about the different types of immunotherapy and what kinds of cancers they help treat.)
One type of cancer that immunotherapy has been particularly effective with is melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Immunotherapy has had a significant impact on the survival rate of melanoma. Patients are living longer than was possible with previous types of cancer treatment.
Doctors can treat melanoma with a variety of FDA-approved immunotherapy methods, but the most common and most successful treatment is a checkpoint inhibitor. In particular, PD-1 inhibitors have been a promising melanoma treatment by preventing the immune system’s T cells from attacking other, healthy cells in the body. PD-1 is a protein on T cells, which are the infection-fighting cells of the immune system. By blocking T cells from attacking healthy cells, the immune system is more likely to attack cancer cells instead.
Using PD-1 inhibitors to treat melanoma has successfully shrunk tumors and helped patients live longer lives—and with fewer side effects than other forms of treatment for skin cancer. Through the use of clinical trials, researchers have developed and approved checkpoint inhibitors that can treat melanoma and reduce the chances of it recurring, and the one-year survival rate for melanoma is the highest it has ever been.
Of course, the best treatment for any condition is prevention. Here are tips for preventing melanoma, according to an oncologist.
Dr. Wilson is an assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, focusing on melanoma.
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Immunotherapy has revolutionized how we
treat melanoma and has actually improved
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their overall survival, meaning patients
are living longer with melanoma.
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So there are a number of different
immunotherapies that can be used when
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treating patients who have melanoma.
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The CTLA-4 antibody that was approved
first in 2011 certainly has more
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side effects than the newer checkpoint
inhibitors that have recently been
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FDA approved for treatment.
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One of the checkpoint inhibitors has been
approved to try to prevent the melanoma
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from coming back.
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And so, over time, as we've developed and
approved different checkpoint inhibitors
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as well as the combination of
these checkpoint inhibitors,
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we've increased melanoma survival.
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And the one-year survival rate is
the highest we've ever seen it.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors to treat cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2017. (Accessed on June 29, 2017 at https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy/immune-checkpoint-inhibitors.html.)
Immunotherapy by cancer type. New York, NY: Cancer Research Institute. (Accessed on June 29, 2017 at https://www.cancerresearch.org/we-are-cri/home/cancer-types.)
Immunotherapy for melanoma skin cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2016. (Accessed on June 29, 2017 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/treating/immunotherapy.html.)
What is cancer immunotherapy? Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2016. (Accessed on June 29, 2017 at https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy/what-is-immunotherapy.html.)