08/21/2013 04:59 PM EDT
Scientists are studying new ways of working with the immune system to fight cancer. This includes vaccines aimed at making a person immune to his or her skin cancer cells. Another method is to train a person's immune cells to attack the skin cancer cells.
- New melanoma drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved two new drugs, Tafinlar (dabrafenib) and Mekinist (trametinib), for patients with advanced (metastatic) or unresectable (cannot be removed by surgery) melanoma. Tafinlar is approved to treat patients with melanoma whose tumors express the BRAF V600E gene mutation. Mekinist is approved to treat patients whose tumors express the BRAF V600E or V600K gene mutations. Approximately half of melanomas arising in the skin have a BRAF gene mutation.
- Immune-system cells. A recent small study showed that treating patients with immune system cells found in tumors could shrink skin cancer tumors and possibly prolong life.
- Melanoma increasing among children. Although rare, melanoma among children is on the rise, according to recent research published in the journal Pediatrics. The biggest increase was among adolescent girls, ages 15 to 19, according to the study authors, including researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). These increases, along with those increases among adults, are thought to stem from increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from tanning booths.
- Sensitized T cells: NCI researchers recently genetically engineered some melanoma patients' white blood cells to recognize and attack their own cancer cells. The NCI researchers sought an effective way to convert normal white blood cells (lymphocytes) in the lab into cancer-fighting cells. The research demonstrated a successful regression of advanced melanoma.