Combination Drug Treatment Could Vastly Improve Survival Rate for Skin Cancer Patients

In the past ten years, medical science has made some incredible advancements, at least in terms of melanoma treatment.  Only one decade ago, the five year survival rate for melanoma patients was only about 1 in 20, with a handful of surviving living perhaps as long as ten years after diagnosis.  

New studies, technology, and treatments, however, may improve these outcomes greatly in the next few years.  Patients in a trial for a new drug combination were divided into three study groups:  both nivolumab and ipilimumab, one drug or the other, and a placebo.  The study determined that patients in the first group—with the combination of drugs—were had a 52 percent survival rate of five years. More importantly, 74 percent of those in the five-year survival cohort were able to stop treatment after five years. 

Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust consultant medical oncologist Professor James Larkin notes that metastatic melanoma had been long regarded as an untreatable condition.  This, then, is the first time we have been able to suggest long-term survival of advanced melanoma, which is now at the impressive milestone of 50 percent (or higher).  

He goes on to say, “By giving these drugs together you are effectively taking two brakes off the immune system rather than one so that the immune system is able to recognize tumours it wasn’t previously recognizing and react to that and destroy them.”

Larkin attests, “The chance of being alive at five years is quite similar to three years and four years. For those patients getting to five years, many or most are off treatment and leading normal lives.”

Of course, this does not mean that all patients can simply start taking this drug combination for five years and then simply stop. Indeed, this decision is something that should not only be discussed with a doctor, but deeply analyzed according to individual patient needs.  For example, Larkin advises, “The two drugs together definitely have a role in treating metastatic melanoma and will be the choice for some patients. For others, the decision may be to give the drugs in sequence.”

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