Australian researchers believe they’ve found a way to stop melanoma from spreading to vital organs.
Results from two international drug trials conducted by investigators at Melanoma Institute Australia have proved successful in preventing the spread of the disease in Stage III melanoma patients whose tumours had been surgically removed.
Professor Georgina Long from the Conjoint Medical Director of Melanoma Institute Australia said the ‘breakthrough’ will change the way skin cancer – a disease that kills one Australian every five hours – is treated as well as vastly improve the quality of life of patients.
‘These clinical trials show we now have ammunition to prevent melanoma spreading and progressing, which until now was a critical area of disease behavior where we had no control,’ Prof Long explained.
The results are to to be presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2017 Congress in Spain on Monday.
Stage III melanomas are tumors that have spread to regional lymph nodes. Until now, these patients were at a high risk – 40 to 70 per cent – of their disease progressing to advanced and fatal melanoma.
‘Stage III melanoma patients who have had their tumors surgically removed have simply had to play the waiting game, to see if their melanoma would metastasis or spread. Living with such fear severely affected them and their loved ones,’ Prof Long said.
The 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.
In the COMBI-AD trial, patients were randomised to receive a combination of targeted therapies (dabrafenib and trametinib) or placebo for 12 months.
The targeted therapy works to block the action of a particular gene – BRAF – which has mutated and drives the spread of melanoma in many melanoma patients.
Not only did the treatment prevent resected Stage III melanoma from recurring but it increased overall survival of BRAF positive patients, according to the researchers.
The CheckMate 238 trial involved patients with high risk Stage III and Stage IV disease who had had all melanoma surgically removed. They were randomised to be treated with the immunotherapy drugs nivolumab or ipilimumab for 12 months.
Results showed nivolumab decreased the chance of relapse.This benefit was seen in patients regardless of BRAF mutation status.
‘We can now actively and effectively attack the 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,’ Prof Long said.