The West Virginia University Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center announced June 18 that it is part of a national study on a drug for melanoma patients whose tumors have been surgically removed but who are high-risk for the melanoma to return.
Melanoma is one of the most aggressive and sometimes deadly types of skin cancer, the center said in a media release. More than 76,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed and more than 9,000 deaths will occur in the United States this year, according to National Cancer Institute estimates.
If caught early and removed surgically, melanoma is nearly 100 percent curable.
But for patients at risk of recurrence, the only drug currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration is high-dose interferon.
"The problem with interferon is that patients have significant side effects from the drug, and it hasn't been shown to improve overall survival," said Miklos Auber, M.D., lead investigator of the study at the WVU Cancer Center.
The drug in the study under way at the WVU Cancer Center is ipilimumab, an immunotherapy drug that stimulates the body's immune system to fight melanoma. It has been shown to improve survival in patients with advanced melanoma, which has spread to other organs. However, it is only approved by the FDA for treatment of advanced melanoma when surgery is not possible.
"We hope that the study results are encouraging so that high-risk melanoma patients have another treatment option to choose from," Auber said. "We will also learn how effective ipilimumab is in improving patients' survival. We have to keep trying, and clinical trials, like this one, are the way to go to get better treatments."