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Breakthrough Drug Combination Treatment Shrinks Melanoma Skin Cancer Tumors

( [email protected] ) Jun 02, 2015 07:47 PM EDT
Administering a combination of immunotherapy drugs resulted in greater shrinkage of melanoma tumors.
Rex Features

A drug combination therapy was found to reduce the tumor size in almost 60 percent of melanoma patients tested in a recent study.

Cancer Research UK conducted a trial involving 945 advance melanoma patients and found that administering ipilimumab and nivolumab simultaneously stopped the cancer from spreading for almost a year in 58 percent of the patients. The results of the study, which was originally published in The New England Journal of Medicine, was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting.

The treatment is called immunotherapy, which simply means getting the body's own immune system to attack cancer cells. Usually, cancer cells are able to "hide" from the immune system, that's why the body cannot defend itself from the disease. Likewise, the immune system has "brakes" that keep it from attacking the body's tissues.

Immunotherapy allows the body to detect the hiding cancer cells and removes the "brakes" from the immune system so it can begin attacking the harmful cells. This method of treatment is being highly explored in the field of cancer research.

"Together these drugs could release the brakes on the immune system while blocking cancer's ability to hide from it," said Dr. Alan Worsley, senior science information officer of Cancer Research UK. "We could give a powerful one-two punch against advanced melanoma by combining immunotherapy treatments," he added, according to BBC.

Ipilimumab and nivolumab are both approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for patients with melanoma that has spread to other organs or those with melanoma that cannot be removed surgically. According to the study, nivolumab alone caused tumors to shrink in 43.7 percent of patients while ipilimumabalone  shrank the tumors in 19 percent of patients. However, when taken together, 57.6 percent of the patients had tumor shrinkage.

Furthermore, nivolumab was able to halt the progression of melanoma for almost seven months while ipilimumab did so for almost three months. Combination treatment stopped the advancement of melanoma for 11.5 months - almost a year, according to NY Daily News.

"By giving these drugs together you are effectively taking two brakes off the immune system rather than one so the immune system is able to recognize tumours it wasn't previously recognizing and react to that and destroy them," said Dr. James Larkin, one of the lead researchers in the study and a consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital.

"This is a treatment modality that I think is going to have a big future for the treatment of cancer," he added, according to BBC.

The treatment has some side effects, such as diarrhea, fatigue and rash. The side effects were observed in more than half of the patients tested with combination therapy.

Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Every year, more than 130,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed all over the world.

Tags : immunotherapy, combination immunotherapy, combination drug treatment, combination immunotherapy treatment, ipilimumab, nivolumab, Cancer Research UK, American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, melanoma, melanoma treatment, skin cancer, skin cancer treatment