Novel therapies may halt skin cancer spread, recurrence

In a breakthrough against skin cancer, Australian researchers have developed a combination of new treatments to stop melanoma early in its tracks, thus preventing the deadliest form of this cancer from spreading to other organs as well as recurring.

The results from two international clinical trials — COMBI-AD and CheckMate 238 — proved successful in preventing the spread of disease in Stage III melanoma patients whose tumours had been surgically removed.

“The results will change the way we treat melanoma patients as well as their quality of life,” said Georgina Long, Professor and Director of Melanoma Institute Australia, a non-profit organisation.

“The trials suggest we can stop the disease in its tracks — effectively preventing it from spreading and saving lives. Our ultimate goal of making melanoma a chronic rather than a terminal illness is now so much closer to being achieved,” Long added, in the paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the COMBI-AD trial, the targeted therapies — dabrafenib and trametinib — blocked the action of a particular gene — BRAF — which is a driver for melanoma.

The treatment not only prevented resected Stage III melanoma from recurring, but it increased overall survival.

On the other hand, the CheckMate 238 trial involved patients with high risk Stage III and Stage IV disease who had had all melanoma surgically removed and were treated with the immunotherapy nivolumab.

The treatment rebooted their immune system to attack the melanoma cells, as well as decreased the chance of relapse.

“These clinical trials show we can now actively and effectively attack melanoma at an earlier stage, reducing the dreadful anxiety for patients about progressing to a potentially terminal illness and ensuring they have much better outcomes,” Long said.

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