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IL-2 therapy increases survival in patients with advanced melanoma

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Researchers at Saint Louis University have made new progress against advanced melanoma, the most aggressive skin cancer. A retrospective study conducted by them showed that patients with brain metastases respond to high-dose of interleukin-2. The study, which was published in the Journal of Chemotherapy Research and Practice, showed that IL-2 treatment can prolong the overall survival of melanoma patients with brain metastases.

John Richart, MD, associate professor of internal medicine at SLU and principal investigator of the study, said that in the past  IL-2 therapy was not used in patients with melanoma and brain metastases because it was considered futile. The study showed that the presence of brain metastases does not exclude the patient to receive this kind of treatment because it can actually prolong his life.

melanoma treatment

Melanoma is the third most common cancer that determines brain metastases and according to studies, and it is ranked first in terms of the mortality of skin cancers. Unlike basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma is associated with a much worse prognosis. Dr Richard explained that the median overall survival of a patient with melanoma and brain metastases is 4 months. However the study conducted by scientists at Saint Louis University showed that treatment with IL-2 may prolong survival to 8 months.

Treatment with IL-2 is administered intravenously in hospital under close monitoring of doctors and require many cycles of six days each. Interleukin-2 kills cancer cells acts by stimulating the immune system;  in fact IL-2 stimulates the immune system to recognize cancer cells and to destroy them.

Although the results are promising (because it was showed that it prolonged survival), however in order to receive the treatment with IL-2, the patient must be in good condition and with a good brain function. Patients with rapidly growing brain injuries or those who show any symptoms of brain injury are excluded from treatment. Until now patients with melanoma and brain metastases were considered ineligible for this treatment because Il-2 was believed to cause cerebral edema, a life threatening complication. In addition, another side effect was neurotoxicity.

Melinda Chu, MD, the first year dermatology resident at SLU and first author of the study, explained that there were no cases of treatment-related mortality and that their study showed that IL-2 can be considered an option for patients with metastatic melanoma and brain. However, researchers added that they need highly skilled staff so that the treatment to be successful.