Immunotherapy for advanced melanoma
There have been several advances in using immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors to treat melanoma. On the surface of the body’s immune cells are proteins called “checkpoints” that stop the immune system from attacking cancer cells. Checkpoint inhibitors block these proteins so the immune cells can recognise and attack the melanoma. Checkpoint inhibitors approved for advanced melanoma include ipilimumab, nivolumab and pembrolizumab. These drugs are usually given into a vein (intravenously).
Checkpoint inhibitors do not work for all advanced melanoma, but some people have had very encouraging results. Immunotherapy drugs are sometimes used in combination, and different combinations of drugs work for different people. Treatments in this area are changing rapidly. Talk to your doctor about whether immunotherapy is appropriate for you.
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The side effects of immunotherapy drugs will vary depending on which drugs you are given. Immunotherapy can cause inflammation in any of the organs in the body, which can lead to side effects such as joint pain, diarrhoea or skin problems such as an itchy rash.
Autoimmune disease may develop and this is generally monitored closely. It’s important to discuss any side effects with your medical team as soon as they appear so they can be managed appropriately. Early treatment for side effects is likely to shorten how long they last. Let your medical team know if you are experiencing side effects that concern you.
For more on this, see Immunotherapy.
Video: What is immunotherapy?
A/Prof Victoria Atkinson, Senior Staff Specialist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Visiting Medical Oncologist, Greenslopes Private Hospital, and The University of Queensland Clinical School of Medicine, QLD; Adjunct Prof John Kelly AM, Consultant Dermatologist, Victorian Melanoma Service, and Department of Medicine at Alfred Health, Monash University, VIC; Dr Alex Chamberlain, Dermatologist, Glenferrie Dermatology, Victorian Melanoma Service and Monash Univeristy, VIC; Alison Button-Sloan, Melanoma Patients Australia; Peter Cagney, Consumer; Prof Brendon J Coventry, Associate Professor of Surgery, The University of Adelaide, Surgical Oncologist, Royal Adelaide Hospital, and Research Director, Australian Melanoma Research Foundation, SA; Dr David Gyorki, Consultant Surgical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Liz King, Skin Cancer Prevention Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Shannon Jones, SunSmart Health Professionals Coordinator, Cancer Council Victoria; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Prof Richard Scolyer, Senior Staff Specialist, Tissue Pathology and Diagnostic Oncology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Co-Medical Director, Melanoma Institute Australia and Clinical Professor, The University of Sydney, NSW; Heather Walker, Chair, Cancer Council National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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