Written By Kevin Kerfoot / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
The study - led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Perlmutter Cancer Center, and Harvard University - showed that death rates for metastatic melanoma among white Americans climbed 7.5 percent between 1986 and 2013, but then dropped by nearly 18 percent over the next three years.
The unrivaled drop in melanoma deaths coincided with the introduction of 10 new therapies for skin cancer that either harness the body’s immune system to fight the disease or directly target melanoma cells that have a specific gene mutation.
The newer therapies are far more effective and less toxic than standard chemotherapy, but are much more expensive. The drugs fall into two broad categories: those that target the BRAF gene, which is mutated in a little less than half of melanoma patients; and immune checkpoint inhibitors, which prevent melanoma tumors from tricking the immune system into ignoring the cancer
Researchers analyzed new cases and deaths from melanoma collected by the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many health care groups have been pushing for early detection exams since the 1980s, so the timing of these declines matches up better with the introduction of the new therapies.
“Our findings show how quickly patients and physicians accepted these new drugs because they profoundly reduce deaths from melanoma,” says co-senior study author David Polsky, MD, Ph.D. “These therapies are now considered the backbone of how we treat this cancer. The report is the first to highlight the role of these new drugs in helping Americans survive melanoma. Future studies should investigate socioeconomic factors that may affect access to the newer therapies, as well as the effect of these treatments on other ethnic groups.”
Researchers caution that early detection is still important, allowing for less toxic forms of treatment and lowered health care costs. They emphasized that prevention, avoiding excessive UV light exposure, and promptly seeking medical care when there is a change in the skin’s appearance, are crucial to reducing the risk of developing metastatic melanoma.
New approach for beating advanced melanoma
A UCLA-led study recently found that a treatment that uses a bacteria-like agent in combination with an immunotherapy drug could help some people with advanced melanoma.
The research - published in the journal Cancer Discovery - showed that using the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab and the experimental agent SD-101 altered the microenvironment around the tumor in a way that enabled the immune system to more effectively attack the cancer. The researchers found that SD-101 not only directs T cells to cancer cells, but it also makes the microenvironment more hospitable for the T cells, so that they can better kill the cancer cells.
The study highlights the need for more research into combination therapies like this one, because many people with cancer do not respond to immunotherapy or experience a reoccurrence of their tumors after treatment. The results suggest that the combination of pembrolizumab and SD-101 could provide an alternative treatment for people with melanoma whose tumors have not responded or would be unlikely to respond to other therapies.
"We have found that the reason patients with metastatic melanoma do not initially respond to immunotherapy with an anti-PD-1 is that their immune system was not ready," says Dr. Antoni Ribas, the study's lead author, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Tumor Immunology Program. "So we thought, 'What if we change that by injecting the therapy drug into the metastatic lesions and change the microenvironment of the cancer? It's like having a pile of wood but not having a match to light it.”
Understanding how immunotherapies work
“With this new approach, SD-101 is the match that starts the fire. We are really starting to understand the science of how immunotherapies work in patients. By understanding that, we can find more ways to make that therapy more active. One way is by combining the therapy with another agent that can overcome the resistance that some cancers have to these therapies."
"For all patients with advanced cancer, immunotherapy using PD-1 inhibitors has really changed the face of cancer treatment. Unfortunately, this therapy still only works in a subset of patients," added Dr. Deborah Wong, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine and an oncologist at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
"This particular combination has been especially gratifying because not only does the SD-101 therapy drug induce tumor shrinkage at the actual site where it's injected, but it's working in conjunction with pembrolizumab to shrink tumors outside of the ones we're directly injecting."
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With over 30 years of writing and editing experience for newspapers, magazines and corporate communications, Kevin Kerfoot writes about natural health, nutrition, skincare and oral hygiene for Trusted Health Products’ natural health blog and newsletters.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.