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Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 00:08 GMT 01:08 UK
Skin cancer treatment hope
melanoma
Immunotherapy may help melanoma survival
A new treatment which triggers the body's own immune system could offer hope for patients with skin cancer.

Early research suggests there may be benefits in using an immunotherapy protein, interleukin-2 (IL-2), combined with usual chemotherapy treatment for people with melanoma.

Dr Ulrich Keilholz from the Free University of Berlin said: "For those patients who had not yet developed symptoms from the spread of their cancer, the treatment may hold promise."

Immunotherapy treatment stimulates the body's natural defence system to fight disease more effectively and is being tried in treating a number of cancers.

Trials of the drug for treating melanoma are underway in a number of European countries, including the UK.

So far 363 patients have been studied, randomised into one group which receives interferon and chemotherapy alone and a second group which additionally receives IL-2.

Optimism

In those patients where the melanoma had spread to an extent that it was causing symptoms immunotherapy appeared to have no benefit.

But the researchers are optimistic that, in patients where the spread of the disease remains symptomless, treatment with IL-2 could improve survival rates.

Dr Alan Lamont who is looking after one of the UK centres involved in the trial at Southend Hospital agreed the results were encouraging.


This could be the best treatment available for melanoma

Dr Alan Lamont, Southend Hospital
But, he pointed out, it will be up to four years before proper results showing five-year survival rates are available.

And interleukin-2 can have serious side-effects, as do the chemotherapy drugs used and interferon.

"This could be the best treatment available for melanoma which is a very resistant tumour to treat," Dr Lamont said.

"But it may only be a small number of people who are fit enough to undergo that treatment."

Melanoma is the most serious and most common of skin cancers, with around 5,000 new cases diagnosed every year in the UK.

In the early stages it can be successfully treated by removing the lesion and tissue around it, but more advanced cases require treatment with cancer drugs.

It is one of the few cancers to affect young people - the most important risk factor being exposure to the sun.

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See also:

11 Jul 00 | Health
'Pay-as-you-go' skin cancer card
07 May 00 | Health
Skin cancer diagnosis advance
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Skin cancers
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