Interferon Not Beneficial for Most Stage III Melanoma

“Final results for the Sunbelt Melanoma Trial, published online this month in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, show that thanks to current diagnostic techniques, most stage III melanoma patients do not benefit from treatment with interferon. Kelly McMasters, M.D., Ph.D., the Ben A. Reid, Sr., M.D. Professor and Chair of the Hiram C. Polk, Jr., M.D. Department of Surgery at the University of Louisville, was the principal investigator and initiated the trial.

“The first of more than 3600 trial participants were enrolled in 1997. Patients with small amounts of  detected in a single lymph node were either treated with high-dose interferon therapy or simply observed. The , representing 79 institutions across North America, were followed for up to 10 years to determine long-term outcomes in terms of disease-free survival and overall survival.”


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…


Ipilimumab May Become Standard of Care for Adjuvant Melanoma Therapy

“Two phase 3 trials currently underway are expected to help answer the provocative question of whether ipilimumab will replace interferon as the standard of care for adjuvant therapy in melanoma, according to a presenter at the HemOnc Today Melanoma and Cutaneous Malignancies meeting.

“ ‘We really have a new path forward and a new beginning,’ Lynn M. Schuchter, MD, chief of the division of hematology/oncology and C. Willard professor of medicine at Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said during a presentation. ‘I’m hopeful we will advance this therapy further by refining proper patient selection, matching the right biomarkers and modifying toxicities.’ “

Editor’s note: Clinical trials are research studies done with volunteer patients. Learn more about the risks and advantages of trials for patients here. The clinical trials described in this story are testing the ability of the drug ipilimumab to prevent recurrence in patients who have already been treated for stage III and stage IV melanoma. Interferon is currently the standard of care for so-called ‘adjuvant therapy‘ to prevent recurrence, but ipilimumab may soon replace it.


Super Patient: Chelsea Price Takes Charge of Stage III Melanoma


Late in 2010, Chelsea Price’s boyfriend noticed that a mole on her upper back was scabbed and weeping. “It had always been there but he thought I should get it checked,” recalls Chelsea, who was then 23 years old. By the time her dermatology appointment rolled around, however, the mole had healed. “I almost cancelled,” she says.

Good thing she didn’t. At her follow-up appointment, her dermatologist casually said, “Hey, it’s melanoma.” Thinking he was kidding, Chelsea started laughing. When she realized he was serious, she was stunned. Continue reading…


Early, High-Dose Interferon Fails to Stop Melanoma

A new study has dashed hopes that high doses of interferon given early on would be enough to curb melanoma. In a phase II clinical trial of about 200 people with melanomas that had not begun to spread, researchers treated half with high-dose interferon every day for a month and the other half with the same high-dose interferon regimen followed by 48 weeks of “maintenance” doses of this immune response-boosting protein. Maintenance doses are typically about 50% lower and are given three times a week instead of daily. The researchers found that the latter group did better, living longer without recurrence as well as surviving longer overall. The latter year-long interferon treatment is standard in the US and Australia, while lower doses of interferon are more commonly used in Europe, says an accompanying editorial.


Patient’s Perspective: Erin Youngerberg’s Take on Melanoma


Erin Youngerberg was diagnosed with melanoma in October, 2010, at age 32 years. Well-traveled and an avid photographer, she grew up in Minnesota, went to college and worked in Milwaukee, then made her way east, living in Ohio and North Carolina before ending up in Jersey City, just outside of New York City. After her diagnosis, she started a blog to keep folks back home updated. Called ‘Melanoma and the City,’ it tells the whole story: from appointments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City to various city adventures; from treatment side effects to recipes for quinoa and tacos. Erin has also found herself dedicated to spreading the word about melanoma awareness. We asked her to take us through her melanoma story. Continue reading…


Advances in Immunotherapy Brighten Prospects for People with Cancer

The enthusiasm for anticancer immunotherapies continues to build, with two treatments already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and clinical trials underway for a variety of promising new candidates. The latest approaches include targeting a protein called PD-L1, which shields tumor cells from immune system attacks. In a phase I clinical trial of a PD-L1 blocker made by MedImmune, early results suggest that this treatment shrinks melanomas as well as kidney, lung, and colon tumors. Next, the researchers hope to open this trial to people with head and neck cancers as well. Another approach entails adding the gene for an immune system booster (interferon beta) to a therapeutic virus (vesicular stomatitis virus) that kills cancer cells, but not normal ones. This treatment is being tested on liver cancer in a phase I trial and early results are encouraging.


Advances in Immunotherapy Brighten Prospects for People with Cancer

The enthusiasm for anticancer immunotherapies continues to build, with two treatments already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and clinical trials underway for a variety of promising new candidates. The latest approaches include targeting a protein called PD-L1, which shields tumor cells from immune system attacks. In a phase I clinical trial of a PD-L1 blocker made by MedImmune, early results suggest that this treatment shrinks melanomas as well as kidney, lung, and colon tumors. Next, the researchers hope to open this trial to people with head and neck cancers as well. Another approach entails adding the gene for an immune system booster (interferon beta) to a therapeutic virus (vesicular stomatitis virus) that kills cancer cells, but not normal ones. This treatment is being tested on liver cancer in a phase I trial and early results are encouraging.


Dabrafenib Bests Chemotherapy and May be Safer than Vemurafenib

A clinical trial found that dabrafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, was far more effective in treating melanomas that have BRAF mutations than the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine, according to a report at an American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting. Patients treated with this drug lived without getting worse for 70% longer than those treated with dacarbazine (5.1 vs. 2.7 months, respectively). Moreover, compared to those treated with vemurafenib in other studies, dabrafenib-treated patients had less risk of another kind of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. This suggests that dabrafenib, which is experimental, could be safer than vemurafenib, which is FDA approved.