The standard treatments for malignant melanoma, like for other cancers, have been to remove the cancerous tumor and if necessary use radiation, chemotherapy, and/or biological agents to kill off the remaining cancer cells.
Two new areas being researched for treatment of malignant melanoma are a personalized cancer vaccine and isolated limb perfusion chemotherapy.
How it works
The melanoma tumor is completely or partially removed and its cells are used to make the Oncophage vaccine. The vaccine contains the unique protein code for that particular tumor. Weekly injections of Oncophage “teach” the body’s immune system to recognize and destroy the unique protein code of the cancer (similar to the way the measles vaccine, for example, “teaches” the body to protect itself against measles).
The immune system will then theoretically destroy only the cancer cells it recognizes, leaving healthy cells alone. Oncophage doesn’t produce the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Studies so far have shown promising results.
Oncophage is in, meaning that it is being given to large groups of cancer patients to assess its effectiveness and compare it to other treatments.
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Isolated limb perfusion chemotherapy
Since chemotherapy involves giving a person a toxic chemical, it has unpleasant, even life-threatening side effects. Researchers have been looking for ways to reduce or eliminate these side effects. A treatment being investigated is isolated limb perfusion (ILP) chemotherapy.
How it works
ILP is being used to treat malignant melanoma tumors in the legs or arms, where the cancerous site can be isolated from the rest of the body. To perform ILP, instead of allowing blood from the leg, for example, to travel back to the heart, doctors divert the blood and make it travel in a tube back to the leg. (Picture the blood traveling in a loop in the leg, pumped by a machine.) While the blood is traveling in the loop, a chemotherapy drug is added to it. This way, the drug goes right to the affected part of the body, rather than traveling through the rest of the body to get there.
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