Such a therapy can cause depigmentation of the skin and, sometimes, attacks on the thyroid.
"Those problems tend to be irritating but not life-threatening, and if they are the price that one has to pay for a cure or highly effective treatment for a highly deadly disease, most patients are willing to pay the price," Weiner said.
But in this particular investigation, the eye also became a target. "That carries with it more profound consequences, although they could inject steroids into the eye that would kill the T-cells in the eye," Weiner said. (This would produce a local effect only and would not affect the melanoma treatment itself.)
"As we develop increasingly more effective immune therapy strategies that are capable of attacking self, be it a self-tumor or self-normal organ, there may well be potentially surprising prices to pay in terms of toxicities," Weiner said. "The authors suggest that understanding the consequences of new immunotherapies for cancer should help researchers guide future treatments and anticipate and treat side effects, thus preventing healthy cells from getting caught in the crossfire."
Learn more about cancer vaccines at the National Cancer Institute.
SOURCES: Louis M. Weiner, M.D., director, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; June 10, 2008, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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