How Immunotherapy Has Revolutionized Treatment for Melanoma

Treating melanoma with immunotherapy is changing patients’ lives.

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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.