Ask the Dermatologists
I've heard there is a vaccine for melanoma. How effective is
Research has actually led to the
development of several melanoma vaccines. Unlike the vaccines given
to prevent diseases such as chicken pox, measles, and tetanus, the
melanoma vaccines do not prevent us from getting this deadly skin
cancer. The melanoma vaccines offer patients with advanced melanoma
an experimental treatment option.
The earliest studies showed promise for using a vaccine to treat
melanoma that had spread. One study enrolled 263 patients with stage
IV melanoma (the most advanced stage). All patients underwent
surgery to remove the cancer. After the surgery, one group received
a melanoma vaccine. The study found that 39% of the patients
receiving the vaccine were alive after 5 years. Only 19% of the
patients who did not receive the vaccine were alive after 5 years.
While encouraging, researchers have not been able to duplicate these
results on a regular basis. Much remains to be learned about why a
vaccine works for one patient with melanoma and not others.
The belief that vaccines will eventually offer some patients a safer
and more effective treatment for advanced-stage melanoma remains.
Melanoma is one of the few cancers in which the person’s immune
system seems to play a role in fighting the cancer. The goal is to
create a vaccine that boosts the immune system so that the body
consistently recognizes melanoma cells. Doing so, may allow the body
to identify and kill melanoma cells that could not be removed during
surgery. It could also prevent new melanoma tumors from forming.
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reported late in
2006 that combining a treatment known as gene therapy with a
melanoma vaccine proves effective in mice when melanoma has spread.
Further studies are planned.
Early Detection Still Offers Highest Cure Rate
Dermatologists caution that while research holds promise of better
treatment for melanoma that has spread, early detection and
treatment are still most effective. Become familiar with your
birthmarks, blemishes, and moles so you know what they look like and
can spot changes. If you notice a new growth or a spot on your skin
changes, make an appointment to see a dermatologist. Even melanoma,
the deadliest form of skin cancer, has a 95% cure rate with early
detection and treatment.
Hsueh E, et al. “Prolonged survival after complete resection of
disseminated melanoma and active immunotherapy with a therapeutic
cancer vaccine.” Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2002. December
Roher, B. “Gene therapy: Success for metastatic melanoma.”
Dermatology Times. 2006. November;27(11):35.
content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
Have you ever wished you
could ask a team of dermatologists a question about skin
cancer? Send your question to the
While we value your
questions and ideas, we cannot answer every question.
Only questions about skin cancer will be considered.
A panel of board-certified dermatologists who specialize
in skin cancer will review the questions submitted to
this site and select a few questions. All answers
will appear on the Web site. You will not receive
a reply, so be sure to check this site.
Too busy to check back?
You can learn what new information has been posted,
including questions and answers, by signing up for the
American Academy of Dermatology's
free monthly e-newsletter.