Vaccine Against Melanoma Proves Successful For Patients With Disease Spread To Two Lymph Node Areas

A custom-made vaccine created from a patient's own cancer tumor cells appears effective in prolonging the survival of patients with malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of the skin cancer, spread to two lymph node areas.

David Berd, professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and a member of Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center, and his colleagues had previously proven the effectiveness of the vaccine in treating patients with malignant melanoma. Now, the researchers treated a subset of the original group of patients who had a particularly poor prognosis. Each had cancer that had spread to two lymph node areas, and each had surgery to remove the visible disease. The patients were then given the vaccine. According to Dr. Berd, 39 percent are estimated to live three years. In general, he says, only some 5 to 15 percent of such patients are cured by surgery alone.

In 15 patients with melanoma spread to the pelvic lymph nodes, 47 percent are estimated to live five-years. The usual surgical cure rate is only 5 to 10 percent.

"Now we're looking at a group of patients with a particularly bad prognosis, and our results strengthen the evidence that the vaccine is therapeutic in a critical situation," says Dr. Berd.

He reports his results April 13 at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Philadelphia.

The vaccine is termed autologous, meaning that it's prepared from a patient's own cancer cells. Before injecting the cells into patients, the cells are inactivated and treated with a chemical, dinitrophenyl (DNP), which chemically modifies them. The modified cells appear foreign enough to the body's immune system for it to react against them.

In the June 1997 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Berd reported the results of treatments on patients with melanoma spread to a single lymph node site (stage III disease).

Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University

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