There may be a glimmer of hope for patients who are suffering from melanoma in the UK: a combination of drugs that is so powerful it can shrink cancerous masses for around 60% of the patients with advanced cases.
Skin cancer is one of the most treatable diseases in the world, especially basal and squamous cell. However, it also has the tendency to recur, and sometimes it is melanoma, a deadly form of cancer. Treating it at a very early stage is very important since once it starts to metastasize, the survival rate dips significantly.
In a new drug trial, however, patients with advanced melanoma may find hope in two powerful medications called nivolumab and ipilimumab, which are both cancer drugs on their own.
Nivolumab has been approved for the treatment of lung cancer while ipilimumab is intended for melanoma patients. When combined, they both help strengthen the immune system, the body's natural defense against infection. For example, it prevents cancer cells from hiding themselves, making them more vulnerable to the effectiveness of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.
Moreover, the immune system is designed to attack threats other than its own tissues. What these drugs do is to allow it to go after tissues that may be already be riddled with cancer.
Based on a trial conducted among 945 patients, both of the drugs can extend the life of the patient by at least 11.5 months. Taking alone, ipilimumab can only work for about 2.5 months and to only 19% of the patients.
Despite the initial success of the trial, there are still some hurdles that need to be addressed. One, the cost of treatment is going to be expensive. Ipilimumab alone can already force patients to spend at least a hundred thousand pounds. Second, while the drugs tend to be effective, they also have quite severe side effects including diarrhea. The doctors, moreover, haven't figured out the reason why some patients don't respond to the drugs.