New drugs for skin cancer presented

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US researchers are presenting two new skin cancer drugs

US scientists have launched two promising treatments for skin cancer. At the annual conference of the American Association for Clinical Oncology in Chicago, US researchers presented the latest study results, according to which remarkable healing successes in the treatment of black skin cancer (malignant melanoma) can be achieved by the combined use of the active ingredients vemurafenib and ipilimumab (marketing name "Yervoy") could. However, the studies mentioned were paid for by the manufacturing pharmaceutical companies, so that doubts seem entirely appropriate.

The studies presented examine the treatment options for malignant melanoma using the two newly developed active ingredients vemurafenib and ipilimumab. At the annual conference of the American Association for Clinical Oncology, the researchers reported that the use of the new preparations had clear successes. The particularly aggressive black skin cancer has regressed and the life expectancy of the patients has increased significantly. Less than ten percent of the test subjects had experienced serious side effects such as diarrhea, joint pain or hair loss when using vemurafenib, the US scientists continued.

Cancer regression and increased life expectancy As part of one of the studies presented, volunteer patients suffering from advanced malignant melanoma were treated with vemurafenib. The experts referred to a recent study in New York by the Abramson Cancer Center, Pennsylvania. This was a test of the effectiveness and harmlessness of the new active ingredient vemurafenib. 675 volunteer patients with inoperable advanced melanoma and a gene mutation were treated with Vemurafenib tablets twice a day. The control group underwent chemotherapy with dacarbazine every three weeks instead. After six months of study, the survival rate of the vemurafenib patients was significantly higher than that of the study participants who had received conventional chemotherapy, according to the New York study. 84 percent of skin cancer patients treated with vemurafenib survived, compared to only 64 percent of chemotherapy patients, the experts reported at the annual conference of the American Association for Clinical Oncology.

Side effects of new skin cancer drugs According to the expert from the Abramson Cancer Center in Pennsylvania, Lynn Schuchter, the study results were particularly gratifying due to the proven success of the treatment. Admittedly, “the drugs themselves are not yet an absolute cure. However, the combination with other forms of therapy and the ongoing development of the new drugs will certainly lead to significant successes, ”the US scientist is convinced. The study authors also described the side effects of using vemurafenib as relatively manageable, since less than ten percent of the study participants suffered serious side effects such as hair loss, rash, joint pain, fatigue or diarrhea after taking it. The study also reported that less dangerous melanomas developed in around 20 percent of skin cancer patients as part of the study. Because of the side effects, the dosage of the active ingredient had to be changed in a third of the patients, study authors continue. Overall, the side effects of taking the new active ingredient, despite contradicting statements by the US researchers, still do not seem to be foreseeable, so that further studies are urgently needed before the treatment of skin cancer with vemurafenib is extended to a larger number of patients.

New skin cancer drug improves chances of survival The second novel drug for the treatment of skin cancer was examined in a further US study. The researchers demonstrated a significant increase in life expectancy from taking ipilimumab in patients with skin cancer. The drug, which has only recently been approved on the US market, is administered to skin cancer patients at an early stage and can thus significantly reduce the risk of fatal disease over the long term, the experts reported at the annual conference of the American Association for Clinical Oncology. The US researchers referred to a recent study in which 502 patients recently suffering from malignant melanoma were treated either with conventional chemotherapy or with chemotherapy plus ipilimumab. Half of the study participants received chemotherapy with dacarbazine, the other half was additionally treated with ipilimumab. After one year of study, 47 percent of the ipilimumab patients were still alive compared to 36 percent of the study participants with conventional chemotherapy. After another three years, the survival rate in ipilimumab patients was 21 percent compared to 12 percent in chemotherapy patients, the US researchers reported. The experts explained that a significantly increased life expectancy can be assumed from the administration of ipilimumab.

Side effects of the active ingredient ipilimumab The side effects of the new skin cancer drug ipilimumab were similar to that of the active ingredient vemurafenib. The most common side effects were diarrhea, rash and chronic fatigue. Almost half of the ipilimumab patients complained of significant side effects in the course of the study, although the other study participants were often not spared from chemotherapy as well. Around a quarter of the test subjects also suffered from the side effects of the treatment. In order for ipilimumab to be fully effective, the US researchers said four infusions over a three-month period are necessary, with the cost of around $ 30,000 per infusion, which is likely to exceed the budget of most health insurance companies. So the question remains as to who would ultimately be able to afford such treatment. In addition, there is definitely skepticism regarding the study results presented, since the studies mentioned were commissioned and financed by the manufacturers of the corresponding pharmaceutical products. In addition, several of the researchers also work as consultants for the respective pharmaceutical manufacturers, so that critics question the objectivity of the studies for a reason. (fp)

Read also about skin cancer:
White skin cancer is increasing rapidly
Dangerous black skin cancer
Sunscreen does not protect against skin cancer

Photo credit: Alexandra Bucurescu /

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