Melanoma Treatment - Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of systemic therapy useful in the treatment of melanoma at high risk for recurrence and for metastatic melanoma. Immunotherapy treats the whole body by attempting to activate a person’s immune system so that it will destroy any melanoma cells within the body.

Immunotherapy is prescribed and administered by a medical oncologist in a variety of ways, most commonly by using biologic agents that stimulate the immune system. Other mechanisms are currently under investigation through clinical trials  and include vaccine therapy, stem cell manipulation and others.

Immune Stimulants

Commonly prescribed immune stimulants include biologic agents, interferons and interleukins, which are administered in much higher doses than are usually present in the body. Common side effects include flu-like symptoms.

  • Ipilimumab (Yervoy) was approved by the FDA in 2011 as the first drug in 13 years to be approved for the treatment of metastatic melanoma
  • Interferon alpha 2-b is the FDA-approved standard treatment for patients with metastatic melanoma. As this treatment induces significant adverse reactions in most patients, an abbreviated treatment regimen was evaluated for clinical efficacy. There are many side effects associated with Interferon therapy, thus ongoing clinical trials are investigating its use in earlier stage melanoma and alternate dosing schedules
  • Interleukin-2 (IL-2) has been used for the treatment of melanoma with modest success for several decades. There are many acute toxicities associated with Interleukin therapy and extremely close monitoring is essential for safe administration

Other immune stimulating agents that have been used in the treatment of melanoma include Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), Corynebacterium parvum and the immunomodulator levamisole.

If you are newly diagnosed, it is important that you learn about all available treatment options