Immunotherapy for melanoma
Immunotherapy is designed to help the immune system identify and attack cancer cells. Several types of immunotherapy may be options to treat melanoma:
Checkpoint inhibitors work by targeting signaling proteins that allow cancer cells to disguise themselves as healthy cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the checkpoint inhibitor drugs ipilimumab (Yervoy®), pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) and nivolumab (Opdivo®) to treat melanoma. Ipilimumab targets the CTLA-4 cell receptor; pembrolizumab and nivolumab target the PD-1 cell receptor. These protein receptors help to regulate the immune system by suppressing the activity of T-cells.
Cytokines are molecules that help regulate immune activity. The drugs alpha-interferon (IFN-alpha) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) are cytokines that may be used to treat some cases of advanced melanoma. These drugs stimulate the rapid growth and activity of immune cells so that they quickly attack the cancer cells.
Immunotherapy may not be recommended for all patients. Because they stimulate the immune system, immunotherapy treatments may also lead to side effects, such as skin rashes or gastrointestinal problems.