At the same time that the therapy was evoking this strong immune-system response, "the radiation lowered the level of a population of [immunosuppressive] cells, allowing the immune system to function more robustly, leading to better recognition and control of the disease," Wolchok said.
This case report illustrates the power of harnessing the human immune system to fight cancer, the researchers said.
"The immune system differs in each of us," Wolchok said. "In studying one person's response, we were able to carefully investigate the clinical findings with in-depth laboratory studies, which suggested that a change in the immune system was vital to the successful results."
This case has sparked interest in clinical trials to test this treatment approach for melanoma and prostate cancer, the research team said.
Devoe agreed that the woman's successful treatment may offer intriguing new avenues of research.
"Dr. Wolchok and his team are outstanding researchers in the field of melanoma," Devoe said. "The immune system has been and continues to be one of the most important aspects of melanoma treatment."
Devoe believes the case of this one patient "does increase the evidence that the NY-ESO-1 protein is a very important immune system target and further study of this particular phenomenon is needed."
The American Cancer Society has more about melanoma.
-- Robert Preidt
SOURCES: Craig Devoe, M.D., oncologist, Monter Cancer Center, North Shore-LIJ Health System, Lake Success, NY; Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, news release, March 7, 2012
All rights reserved