Hitting Home Runs in the Treatment of Melanoma

Diagnostic form with diagnosis melanoma and pills.Are you curious about the newest melanoma treatment using checkpoint inhibitors you’ve heard about? What are checkpoint inhibitors and how are these used to treat melanoma? Let’s take a look at how this latest therapy works.

The Players

  • T-cells
  • checkpoint inhibitors
  • ipilimumab
  • nivolumab
  • pembrolizumab

The Game

“T-cells (T lymphocytes) are cancer-fighting cells,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, dermatologist and skin cancer expert in Austin, Texas. The T-cells have receptors that can be triggered to turn these cells on or off. “Some cancer cells can turn the receptors off and essentially deactivate these cancer killers, effectively stopping the immune system from defending itself against spreading cancers.”  The cancer cells are tricksters that convince the body that nothing is wrong.

The MVPs

The immunotherapy drugs approved for the treatment of advanced cases of melanoma are ipilimumab, nivolumab and pembrolizmumab. Advanced cases include those where the melanoma has gone too deep into the skin to be handled by surgical removal or in circumstances where the melanoma have moved (metastasized) to other areas of the body.

“These drugs work to turn back on the T-cell receptors that the cancer cells have turned off,” says Dr. Mamelak. “They jumpstart the immune system to begin working again, and begin fighting off the cancer invasion.”

Runs Scored

In initial trials, this type of immunotherapy lowered the risk of mortality in patients by 32%, extended the life expectancy of some patients by up to 2 years and surprisingly resulted in thorough and long-lasting regression for other participants as reported by the Cancer Research Institute.

Expected Foul Balls

As with any medication or treatment, there is the risk of side effects. Using the immunotherapy drugs comes with the possibility of gastrointestinal issues, skin rashes or peeling, headaches, muscle weakness and vision problems to name a few.

Contact Us

Dr. Mamelak treats patients with skin cancer at Sanova Dermatology and the Austin Mohs Surgery Center. If you have any question about immunotherapy treatments for advanced melanomas or any other cancer treatment options, please contact us today.

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