WEDNESDAY, June 1 (HealthDay News) -- For patients with advanced melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, a vaccine combined with an immune-boosting drug is showing promise in a large clinical trial.
Therapeutic cancer vaccines, unlike typical vaccines that prevent infections, are meant to jump-start the immune system to help it battle existing tumors.
In this Phase 3 clinical trial, conducted at 21 care centers, researchers randomly assigned 185 patients with metastatic melanoma, meaning the cancer had spread, to either the vaccine followed by interleukin-2, a drug that activates the immune system, or interleukin-2 alone.
Those given the vaccine-drug combo showed more improvement than those given the drug alone, according to the study, which was published in the June 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
About 16 percent of those given the vaccine/interleukin-2 combination saw their tumors shrink by 50 percent or more, compared to 6 percent given interleukin-2 alone.
Those in the vaccine/drug group also had slightly longer "progression-free" survival -- 2.2 months compared to 1.6 months -- meaning they had more time in which the tumor didn't grow.
Patients given the combo also lived an average of nearly 7 months longer than those only give interleukin-2 -- nearly 18 months compared to about 11 months. While a "strong trend," those results were not statistically significant, said lead study author Dr. Douglas Schwartzentruber, medical director of the Goshen Center for Cancer Care at Indiana University Health.
"This is the first time that a vaccine has shown benefit in the treatment of patients with metastatic melanoma, and it's an early example of success with a cancer vaccine," Schwartzentruber said.
He and the other researchers reported that although the treatment-related toxic effects were similar in both groups,
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