According to a recent article published in the journal Cancer, surgical removal of cancer spread in the body followed by peptide vaccines appear to significantly improve survival in some patients with metastatic melanoma.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that often starts in the form of a mole. Although melanoma is very curable in its earliest stages prior to its spread, advanced-stage melanoma is considered difficult to cure. Metastatic melanoma refers to cancer that has spread to distant sites in the body.

Long-term survival for this stage of disease remains dismal, with the median overall survival being 7 to 9 months. For some patients, the surgical removal of cancer sites that have spread in the body (metastasectomy) has improved survival. Furthermore, the use of immune therapy, or therapy that stimulates the immune system to attack the cancer, has also demonstrated an improvement in survival; however, these improvements remain suboptimal.

Several vaccines designed to stimulate a patient’s immune system to work against melanoma cancer cells are being evaluated in clinical trials. Many of these vaccines are in early-phase clinical trials and are still being refined to produce optimal and durable anticancer responses.

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) recently evaluated data from five clinical trials that included patients with metastatic melanoma. These trials included 41 patients who underwent metastatectomy followed by specific vaccines that included proteins from cancer cells as well as an immune stimulating agent referred to as Montanide ISA 51.

At a median follow-up of 5.6 years, these results were recorded:

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  • The median overall survival for these patients was nearly 4 years.
  • At 5 years, 45% of the patients were still alive.

The researchers concluded that metastatectomy followed by immune stimulating vaccines appears to provide promising survival in patients with metastatic melanoma. However, the researchers caution that these trials included small numbers of patients. In addition, these patients were able to have their sites of cancer surgically removed.

Patients with metastatic melanoma may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of metastatectomy and the participation in a clinical trial further evaluating vaccines or other novel therapeutic approaches. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) and www.cancerconsultants.com.

Reference: Tagawa S, Cheung E, Banta W, et al. Survival Analysis after Resection of Metastatic Disease Followed by Peptide Vaccines in Patients with Stage IV Melanoma. Cancer. 2006; 106: 1353-1357.

Related News:Vaccine to Stimulate Immune System Appears Promising for Advanced Melanoma(11/15/05)

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