Game Changer: Stage II Melanoma Treatment Option
Earlier this month, pharmaceutical company Merck announced FDA approval of its immunotherapy drug, Keytruda (pembrolizumab), as a treatment option for Stage IIB or IIC melanoma patients. FDA approval came after data from a phase 3 trial showed Keytruda significantly reduced tumor recurrence and improved overall survival rates in Stage II patients.1
Keytruda as a treatment for some melanomas
Certain immunotherapy medicines, such as Keytruda, boost the body’s defense systems in order to fight melanoma. According to Merck’s December announcement, Keytruda would be used as an adjuvant therapy, or treatment given to lower the risk that melanoma would return or spread, for stage II melanoma patients whose initial tumors were surgically removed.
Stage II melanoma
At stage II, melanoma remains a localized disease that has grown in thickness, or penetration of lower skin layers, and is possibly ulcerated, which refers to whether or not the skin’s top layer remains intact.2 Unlike stage III, there has been no spread to regional lymph nodes or any satellite metastasis.
Following successful surgery to remove melanoma (commonly called resection), stage IIB and IIC patients typically are monitored for signs of recurrence or disease spread. The likelihood of recurrence or the potential for spread, unfortunately, is significant, much like for stage III melanoma patients.
It's a waiting game
As a former stage IIC patient, I know first-hand that monitoring, with physical exams and machine scans, can be a frustrating waiting game. Waiting for test results is both nerve-racking and emotionally draining. Waiting. Wondering. Worrying.
Following stage II surgery in late 2011, I was scanned every three to six months to ensure that melanoma had not spread, or returned. I spent almost two years waiting, wondering, and worrying.
In my case, it did spread
In July 2013, a PET scan revealed that melanoma had spread, or metastasized to my lungs. With that phase of waiting and wondering now over, a new chapter began in my fight against melanoma. Fortunately, I’m here today continuing my fight. Let's remember that monitoring, while important, is not a proactive means of prevention.
This is a potential game changer
Now, stage IIB and IIC patients have an option available to them, in the form of a proven immunotherapy medicine, which teaches the body to fight back against melanoma. These medicines have potential side effects, but the risks should be weighed against the chance to stop melanoma before it spreads. Merck’s announcement is big news, very big news, and could be a significant change in how oncologists treat early to mid-stage melanomas now and in the future.
Note: As a stage IV melanoma patient, I’m currently on Keytruda, which has added another year, and counting, to my life. It has been a pro-active means to continue fighting...and living.
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