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Other Treatments for Melanoma: Biologic Therapy

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
 
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This page discusses the use of biologic therapy for the treatment of melanoma. For a thorough review of biologic therapy, please see the biologic therapy treatment monograph .

In some cases, biologic therapy may be used in the treatment of melanoma.

Biologic Therapy

Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses drugs to improve the way your body’s immune system fights disease. Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against disease. Biologic therapy attempts to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system so that it can fight the cancer more effectively. These therapies can be used to fight cancer or to lessen the side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments.

Examples of biologic therapy used for melanoma include interferon, interleukin 2, and melanoma vaccines.

Biologic therapy may be started after surgery to prevent recurrences, or used to treat melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body.

Effectiveness

Interferon alpha has been shown in several studies to reduce the risk of recurrence of melanoma after it is surgically removed. Interferon has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for patients with melanoma that has a high risk of recurrence, i.e., where the melanoma is thicker than 4 millimeters (mm) and/or there has been spread to lymph nodes. Interferon is typically given intravenously (by vein) five days per week for four weeks and then by shots under the skin three times per week for an additional 48 weeks. This treatment has many side effects and is not appropriate for all patients with high-risk melanoma.

Once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body, treatment is generally not very effective. One type of biologic therapy that has been used under these circumstances is interleukin 2 (IL-2). Although IL-2 is only effective in a small minority of patients, a few patients have achieved long-lasting remissions with this treatment. IL-2 therapy has many side effects and is not appropriate for all patients with metastatic melanoma.

The effectiveness of other types of biologic therapies in the treatment of melanoma, including vaccine therapies and combinations of chemotherapy with IL-2 and interferon, is still under investigation.

Sources:

American Cancer Society

Bast, R., et al. Cancer Medicine e5 ., Hamilton, Ontario: B.C. Decker Inc.; 2000

National Cancer Institute

Rakel, R. Conn's Current Therapy 2002 , 54th ed., St. Louis, MO: W. B. Saunders Company



Last reviewed February 2003 by Donald Lawrence, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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