Immunotherapy for Melanoma
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What Makes Immunotherapy a Promising Treatment for Melanoma?

Reviewed By: Jedd D. Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Ludwig Cancer Research, New York, NY

Though melanoma makes up less than 5% of all skin cancers, this deadly disease is accountable for the vast majority of deaths caused by skin cancer. In 2016 alone, the US is expected to see approximately 76,000 new melanoma diagnoses, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths. As with all skin cancers, the main risk factor for melanoma is exposure to UV light—both natural and artificial sunlight. Unfortunately, instances of melanoma skin cancer are on the rise globally.

The future of melanoma treatment is evolving, thanks to the revolutionary advancements in immunotherapy for skin cancers like melanoma. In particular, ipilimumab, an FDA-approved checkpoint immunotherapy, became the first drug to extend advanced melanoma patient survival. This and many other developing melanoma immunotherapies represent the promise and potential of immunotherapy as a more effective, lifesaving cure for skin cancer.

While melanoma is typically easier to detect in earlier stages than in many other types of cancer, is it also much more likely to metastasize, or spread to other organ systems of the body. For this reason, survival rates for localized (stage I and II) melanoma and metastasized melanoma vary greatly.

Thankfully, treatment of melanoma is evolving as skin cancer immunotherapies are being developed and improved. Current protocol for melanoma treatment is dependent on the condition of the tumor and the prognosis at time of disease detection. When caught early, the melanoma tumor may be removed during surgery, but if a biopsy shows that the melanoma has spread to lymph nodes, the treatment strategy may include more intensive surgery, targeted therapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and/or clinical trials.

Many immunotherapies have been approved for melanoma patients, including three checkpoint inhibitors (ipilimumab, pembrolizumab, nivolumab), an oncolytic virus (T-VEC), and three cytokine therapies (aldesleukin, interferon alfa-2b, and peginterferon Alfa-2b). The combination of ipilimumab and nivolumab is also approved, and these immunotherapies represent the increasing potential of immunotherapy as a lifesaving treatment for melanoma.

Despite the recent advancements in FDA-approved melanoma therapies, many advanced metastatic melanoma patients still face a significant mortality risk. The aggressive nature of this disease sustains an urgent need for more successful, effective melanoma immunotherapies.

Are you a patient or caregiver interested in learning more about cancer immunotherapy treatment and clinical trials? If so, visit our Patient section on immunotherapy for melanoma.

CRI's Impact on Melanoma

For more than three decades, CRI has funded laboratory and clinical research into the development of melanoma immunotherapies—granting nearly $38 million to the fight against this deadly skin cancer. This financial support has effectively funded more than 35 clinical trials enrolling roughly 750 melanoma patients, helping to advance the field of treatment through better insight and understanding of the disease.

Melanoma is a core focus of immunotherapy research and study done by CRI scientists. With the help of our donor community, our organization continues to supports innovative research in the field of melanoma immunotherapy—from lab to clinic to cures.

Featured Story

I would rather laugh in the face of death (and cancer) than be sad about it.

Michelle Boyer
Melanoma  |  Diagnosed 2010
Read My Story
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*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.