Posted by Leanne Kodsman on
The good news keeps on coming! Immunotherapies are continuing to show promising results in treating a wide range of cancers - from melanoma to lung cancer, even lymphoma and leukemia! New research shows that immunotherapy may even be helpful in extending the lives of people who have been diagnosed with advanced melanoma which has spread to the brain.
Immunotherapy - targeting tumors using the body's immune system - has been showing increasing promise as new research continues to emerge. A recent study, "Improved Risk-Adjusted Survival for Melanoma Brain Metastases in the Era of Checkpoint Blockade Immunotherapies: Results from a National Cohort," published recently in Cancer Immunology Research, found that an immune-based approach helps to extend the life of people diagnosed with advanced stage 4 melanoma that has metastasized to the brain. Immunotherapies have been approved since 2011 for treating advanced melanoma, and have proven so effective that chemotherapy is no longer the first-line treatment for these patients.
These types of medications work in various ways, but with the same essential philosophy - they use the body's immune response to target the cancer by recognizing cancer cells and destroying them. Normally, the immune system leaves tumors alone since they are derived from normal tissue cells. With the addition of immunotherapy, the body's immune defenses are able to recognize and destroy cancer cells as they would a foreign invader.
The first immune-based therapies, called checkpoint inhibitors, have become increasingly popular for treating melanoma that has spread to the brain. In 2015, 34% of these patients were given immunotherapy treatment as compared to 11% of patients in 2011. Over this same time period, median survival has increased from 5 months to more than a year. These benefits were even more pronounced in MBM patients without extracranial metastases, where survivability increased to more than 4 years.
This study in particular is especially notable, as it is one of the first studies that demonstrate the increase in survival rate seen in early melanoma patients also is observed in late-stage melanoma patients with brain metastases.
The researchers did not note whether the patients had also been treated concurrently with steroid therapy (a common metastatic cancer treatment). Some doctors have expressed concern about whether immunotherapy would be effective in cases where steroids were also being administered, but the researchers are encouraged that the checkpoint inhibitors appear beneficial across the entire population studied - some of whom may have been also receiving steroid therapies.
The use of checkpoint inhibitors and immunotherapy have proven to be an effective treatment for melanoma, and it seems that the same benefits are being seen in advanced melanoma patients, as well. This is hopefully just the start in conducting additional trials and studies, with the goal of seeing better treatments for advanced stages of disease.
Further Reading & References:
Improved Risk-Adjusted Survival for Melanoma Brain Metastases in the Era of Checkpoint Blockade Immunotherapies: Results from a National Cohort. J. Bryan Iorgulescu, Maya Harary, Cheryl K. Zogg, Keith L. Ligon, David A. Reardon, F. Stephen Hodi, Ayal A. Aizer and Timothy R. Smith. Cancer Immunol Res July 12 2018 DOI: 10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-18-0067
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