Immunotherapy Steps Up in Treatment of Advanced Melanoma

New treatments show promise harnessing the immune system to attack late-stage skin cancer.

Newly-developed immunotherapy regimens are making an impact treating advanced forms of cancer, particularly in late-stage melanoma.

Each year, about 70,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the United States. Surgery has always been considered the best treatment option, and if it is caught early, recovery rates are exceptional.

But by stage 3 and 4 melanoma, the disease spreads, and although radiation and chemotherapy can reduce some of the cancer, neither therapy has been found to prolong survival. This is where immunotherapy can step in.

“It’s not treating the cancer, but focusing on the host,” said researcher Pierre Triozzi, MD. “The immune system kills viruses foreign to the body.”

Immunotherapy has shown efficacy against certain cancer types, especially melanoma, but there is still a large chunk of cancer patients in whom the treatment does not work. This is a result of some cancers of the body not necessarily being seen as foreign by the immune system, according to the study.

Prior research suggests that sun exposure and ultraviolet light damage cells in a way that causes them to appear foreign to the body’s immune system. To make the immune response more effective, it should be boosted by existing drugs and clinical drugs, such as HyperAcute Melanoma (HAM) vaccine, the study noted.

“Most of the time in the past when you had melanoma at an advanced stage, there were not a whole lot of options,” Triozzi said. “Now, with all the new treatments available, there is reason for optimism. It may be too soon to speak the word cure, but with these new treatments we are seeing people even in stage 4 cured of their melanoma.”