Combining radiation with immunotherapy showing promise against melanoma

May 19, 2016, Loyola University Health System
Melanoma in skin biopsy with H&E stain — this case may represent superficial spreading melanoma. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Combining radiation treatments with a new generation of immunotherapies is showing promise as a one-two-punch against melanoma, Loyola Medicine researchers report in the Journal of Radiation Oncology.

Radiation kills by damaging their DNA. Immunotherapies work by harnessing a patient's immune system to attack and kill cancer cells. When combined, the two therapies appear to have synergistic effects, according to the article by James S. Welsh, MD and colleagues.

Dr. Welsh is a professor in the department of oncology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Melanoma is one of the most aggressive forms of skin cancer. Among patients with Stage 4 metastatic , in which the cancer has spread to other organs, one-year survival rates range from just 33 percent to 62 percent. This year in the United States, about 76,000 patients will be diagnosed with melanoma and about 10,000 people are expected to die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

On rare occasions, melanoma patients can spontaneously go into remission. More common are partial spontaneous regressions of melanoma lesions. While scientists aren't certain what causes these effects, evidence points to the immune system mounting an attack on cancer cells.

A key observation that supports the role of the immune system in melanoma is the abscopal effect.This rare phenomenon occurs when a localized treatment such as radiation not only shrinks the targeted tumor but also stimulates the immune system to mount a systemic attack on cancer cells throughout the body. Dr. Welsh saw the abscopal effect firsthand when he gave radiation treatment to a patient who had melanoma that had spread to his liver and bones.The radiation was intended merely to shrink a tumor in the patient's thigh bone, to relieve his pain and reduce the risk of fracture. But three months later, a CT scan found no trace of cancer anywhere.

Many new immunotherapies for melanoma are being tried, some with notable results. One such example is a of "checkpoint inhibitors." These are drugs that, in effect, remove the brakes that normally prevent the immune system from attacking cancer cells.

Radiation increasingly is being used alongside checkpoint inhibitors and other immunotherapies, with encouraging results, Dr. Welsh and colleagues write.

Despite the recent successes of radiation and immunotherapy, not all are able to mount an effective response to fight melanoma. So it is important to discover proteins or other biomarkers that can predict whether a patient will respond to immunotherapy. Such biomarkers also could help quantify how well experimental therapies are working, Dr. Welsh and colleagues write.

The review article article summarizes the latest research in how radiation can be integrated with immunotherapy in the treatment of melanoma. It is titled "The integration of radiation therapy and immunotherapy in melanoma management."

Explore further: Why 'sharks get cancer, mole rats don't'

More information: Kyle Stang et al, The integration of radiation therapy and immunotherapy in melanoma management, Journal of Radiation Oncology (2016). DOI: 10.1007/s13566-016-0256-5

Related Stories

Why 'sharks get cancer, mole rats don't'

May 6, 2016
A provocative new book by Loyola Medicine radiation oncologist James S. Welsh, MD, Sharks Get Cancer, Mole Rats Don't: How Animals Could Hold the Key to Unlocking Cancer Immunity in Humans, explores how animals can help us ...

Long-term survival achieved in metastatic melanoma with personalized vaccine

May 10, 2016
Two patients with melanoma that had spread to the liver survived for at least 8.5 and 12 years after resection of the hepatic tumor and treatment with patient-specific immunotherapeutic vaccines. The vaccines, designed to ...

Radiation combined with immune-stimulating drugs could pack a powerful punch against cancer cells

March 21, 2016
In his final State of the Union address, President Obama tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading a new National Cancer Moonshot initiative. The hope is that this will put America on course to be "the country that cures ...

Researchers discover how immune cells resist radiation treatment

November 24, 2015
Researchers at The Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have discovered a key mechanism by which radiation treatment (radiotherapy) fails to completely destroy tumors. And, in the journal ...

Protein may predict response to immunotherapy in patients with metastatic melanoma

May 5, 2016
A protein called Bim may hold the clue to which patients may be successful on immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma, according to the results of a study by Mayo Clinic researchers led by senior author Haidong Dong, M.D., ...

Systemic tumor disappearance following local radiation treatment reported in metastatic melanoma patient

March 7, 2012
A rarely seen phenomenon in cancer patients — in which focused radiation to the site of one tumor is associated with the disappearance of metastatic tumors all over the body — has been reported in a patient with ...

Recommended for you

Study tracks evolutionary transition to destructive cancer

February 23, 2018
Evolution describes how all living forms cope with challenges in their environment, as they struggle to persevere against formidable odds. Mutation and selective pressure—cornerstones of Darwin's theory—are the means ...

Researchers use a molecular Trojan horse to deliver chemotherapeutic drug to cancer cells

February 23, 2018
A research team at the University of California, Riverside has discovered a way for chemotherapy drug paclitaxel to target migrating, or circulating, cancer cells, which are responsible for the development of tumor metastases.

Lab-grown 'mini tumours' could personalise cancer treatment

February 23, 2018
Testing cancer drugs on miniature replicas of a patient's tumour could help doctors tailor treatment, according to new research.

An under-the-radar immune cell shows potential in fight against cancer

February 23, 2018
One of the rarest of immune cells, unknown to scientists a decade ago, might prove to be a potent weapon in stopping cancer from spreading in the body, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

Putting black skin cancer to sleep—for good

February 22, 2018
An international research team has succeeded in stopping the growth of malignant melanoma by reactivating a protective mechanism that prevents tumor cells from dividing. The team used chemical agents to block the enzymes ...

Cancer risk associated with key epigenetic changes occurring through normal aging process

February 22, 2018
Some scientists have hypothesized that tumor-promoting changes in cells during cancer development—particularly an epigenetic change involving DNA methylation—arise from rogue cells escaping a natural cell deterioration ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.