Melanoma: New Drugs and New Challenges (Part 1 of 2)


New targeted and immunotherapy drugs have changed the diagnosis of metastatic melanoma from a death sentence into a disease that can potentially be managed and even cured. Nevertheless, these new drugs do not work in all patients, or they may stop working after a transient response. This post (part one of two) will describe ongoing efforts to find drug combinations with higher efficacy than single drugs and decipher the mechanisms underlying drug resistance. Continue reading…


Clinical Trial Versus Standard Protocol: Why and How to Enroll in a Trial


My job at Cancer Commons is to help cancer patients better understand and make decisions about their treatment. Through our Ask Cancer Commons service, I also strive to inform patients about new drugs in trials that they can discuss with their oncologists. Sometimes, I explain the rationale behind a patient’s current or upcoming treatment, and sometimes I try to convince patients to actually get treated, rather than hope that a vegetarian diet and herbal supplements will cure their metastatic disease. Continue reading…


Super Patient: Our Writer Tells Her Own Cancer Story—And Learns How Powerful That Is


Fifteen years ago, my husband looked at me and said, “What’s that?” Somehow we had both missed a bump the size—and roughly the color—of a pencil eraser on the tip of my nose. But suddenly it was all I could see.

Me: “Is it something bad?”

My husband: “You need to see a dermatologist.” Continue reading…


Super Patient: Diane Milne Gives Other Cancer Patients the Tools that Helped Her Survive


June 14, 2014 started out like any other day for Diane Milne. But then, just before the two-hour Zumba exercise class she took almost every morning, she suddenly couldn’t breathe. “I had an overwhelming sense of doom,” recalls Diane, a 68-year-old retired nurse. “I was home alone and I thought I was going to die.” Continue reading…


The Growing Arsenal of Immunotherapy Drugs for Melanoma


Large numbers of immune cells (T cells in particular) are frequently found within or adjacent to melanoma tumors, indicating that the tumors attract the attention—if not the action—of the immune system. True to its reputation as one of the most ‘immunogenic‘ cancers, melanoma now has more U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved immunotherapy (immune system-targeting) drugs than any other cancer type. As a consequence, metastatic melanoma is no longer the universally fatal disease it was even just 3 or 4 years ago. Continue reading…


Cancer Stem Cells and How to Get Rid of Them


If you have not yet heard of cancer stem cells (CSCs), often considered to be the real culprits in cancer, it is about time you do. CSCs are stem cells found in tumors. Drugs that target them are showing promise in clinical trials. More on that later; first, let’s introduce the concept of stem cells:

All normal tissues in our bodies develop from a small number of very special cells known as stem cells. Stem cells can divide a seemingly unlimited number of times. Continue reading…


To PD-L1 or Not to PD-L1: That Is the Question


These days, it seems that I write mostly about immune checkpoint blockade drugs, or some other new immunotherapy treatment for cancer. This post is no different—it covers PD-L1, a protein that is at the center of clinical decisions for selecting patients who are likely to benefit from treatment with an anti-PD-1 or anti-PD-L1 drug. Continue reading…


What Determines Whether a Melanoma Patient Will Respond to Checkpoint Blockade Drugs?


Of all cancer types, melanoma is the most investigated in terms of its potential to be treated through immune system-based approaches. More immunotherapy drugs are approved for melanoma than for any other type of cancer, and more are in development. Recent additions to the immunotherapy arsenal are the ‘anti-PD-1’ immune checkpoint blockade drugs pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo). Continue reading…


The CAR T-Cell Treatment: Will It Work for Solid Tumors?


Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a new, immune system-based cancer treatment that has garnered recent media attention. In a clinical trial, CAR T-cell treatment left no signs of tumors in 70% to 90% of children and adults with the aggressive blood cancer acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). ALL is almost always fatal, and the results observed with CAR T-cell treatment are nothing short of spectacular. Continue reading…