TARGETED AND IMMUNOTHERAPY TREATMENTS
There are several treatments for skin cancer, including targeted therapy and immunotherapy. A patient’s melanoma diagnosis, age, location, and general health are some of the factors that should be taken into account when considering treatment options.
To determine if targeted therapy is an option for you, you will need to have your tumor tested for a marker called BRAF. If the BRAF test shows that your tumor has the BRAF mutation, you are eligible for targeted therapy. But if your tumor does not have the BRAF mutation, you are not eligible for targeted therapy.
Both BRAF and MEK kinases are key protein enzymes that help melanoma cells grow. About half of all melanoma patients have a mutated form of code for the BRAF protein in their tumors. This is called having a BRAF mutation.
For those patients with a BRAF mutation, there is the option to use a combination of oral (by mouth) drugs called dabrafenib and trametinib. When given together, these drugs can help block these proteins and stop the melanoma from growing. Remember, these drugs only work in people who have the BRAF mutation.
The second option is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy uses medications that are designed to “awaken” your body’s own immune system to help fight any remaining cancer cells. You are eligible for immunotherapy regardless of your tumor’s BRAF status.
Immunotherapy is a treatment that gives your immune system more power to fight your cancer. Every day, our immune system recognizes dangerous things—cancer cells, foreign invaders like bacteria and some viruses—and hunts them down and destroys them. However, some cancer cells (including some melanoma cells) have ways evading/putting the brakes on your immune system, preventing it from doing its job. In fact, the immune system may not even recognize these cancer cells, which might explain why they can keep growing and multiplying.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors take the brakes off the immune system, allowing it to identify and destroy cancer cells. PD-1 inhibitors and CTLA4 inhibitors are types of immune checkpoint inhibitors. PD-1 inhibitors generally produce fewer and less severe side effects compared with CTLA4 inhibitors, such as ipilimumab; nivolumab is a PD-1 inhibitor, as is pembrolizumab.
Source: AIM with Immunotherapy
An up-to-date list of available treatments can be found on the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) website’s Provincial drug formulary database, which can be accessed here. For more information about BRAF inhibitor therapies and whether they might be an option for you, ask your Doctor.