Immunotherapy for melanoma
Immunotherapy drugs are designed to help stimulate the immune system or to help immune cells better identify and attack cancer cells. Because immunotherapy treatments may also cause the immune system to attack healthy cells in addition to cancer cells, they may cause side effects, such as flu-like symptoms, fatigue, skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems. Immunotherapy drugs may be used as a first-line treatment for melanoma and some other cancers, or they may be used in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery. Several types of immunotherapy may be options to treat melanoma, including:
Checkpoint inhibitors work by targeting signaling proteins that allow cancer cells to hide from the immune system. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the checkpoint inhibitor drugs ipilimumab (Yervoy®), pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) and nivolumab (Opdivo®) to treat some cases of advanced or metastatic melanoma. Ipilimumab and nivolumab have been approved as a combination therapy for some cases of advanced melanoma.
Cytokines are molecules that help regulate immune activity. The drugs recombinant interferon alfa-2b (IFN-alpha-2b or Intron A®) and interleukin-2 (IL-2), also called aldesleukin (Proleukin®), are cytokines that may be used to treat some cases of advanced melanoma. Peginterferon alfa-2b (Sylatron®) may be used to treat patients who have had surgery to remove cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. These drugs are designed to stimulate the rapid growth and activity of immune cells.
Oncolytic virus therapy is a treatment that uses modified versions of harmful viruses to trick the immune system into launching an attack. The FDA has approved talimogene laherparepvec (Imlygic®), also called T-VEC, to treat some cases of melanoma on or under the skin or in lymph nodes. T-VEC is made from a modified herpes virus. It is injected directly into melanoma lesions or lymph nodes over several weeks or months.