New Melanoma Treatment Sparks Hope

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A new drug to treat late-stage melanoma is cause for hope and warning. Just approved by the FDA last week, Yervoy, an intravenous immunotherapy treatment, is the first new option for melanoma patients in more than a decade. While it shows promise that a better understanding of the disease and more treatments may be underway, the new drug is not a cure and caused severe, and, in some cases, fatal, side effects in 12.9 percent of patients treated in trials. So the treatment has been approved with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy to education physicians and patients of the potential dangers.

So what’s the good news? Yervoy was proven to prolong the lives of patients suffering from melanoma by an additional three and half months, on average. Melanoma patients who received an experimental vaccine in the trial lived another six and a half months while patients taking the vaccine with Yervoy or taking Yervoy alone lived an additional 10 months, on average. Melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, was responsible for 8,700 deaths last year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Is this treatment worth the risks? That’s a personal choice.

“It is not clear what quality of life these patients had, which is an important factor when talking about the issue of prolonging life,” says Bay Harbor Islands, FL, dermatologist Melissa Lazarus, M.D. “The patients that were selected for the study really had no other treatment options available to them. The end outcome, unfortunately, is the same.”

It is clear that more studies on the drug need to be conducted, and approval will open doors for that. “The approval allows for these studies to be done and for the medication to potentially be available to, theoretically, treat earlier-stage melanoma patients, and possibly improve survival in other groups of melanoma patients that have not yet been studied,” Dr. Lazarus says.

However, renewed focus on melanoma could be a good thing. Researchers have begun to discover that melanoma may be the result of many different diseases, each with unique biology. This suggests that new trials using customized or combination therapies may be underway in the future. New thought processes just may lead to new discoveries. Here’s hoping.

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