Some Melanoma Patients May Not Need This Rx

Interferon may not be beneficial for some stage III melanoma patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) Interferon is a medication commonly used to treat melanoma, but it may not be beneficial for some patients. And the reason why may be a good one.

Interferon may not improve survival among some stage III melanoma patients because improved diagnosing may be helping doctors catch melanoma before it spreads, a new study found.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Current research suggests that melanoma is prone to spreading, or metastasizing, through the blood stream — often into the lymph nodes. Interferon (brand name Intron A) is often used to treat melanoma.

The current study began in 1997. Since then, methods to detect melanoma that has spread to the lymph nodes have improved so that doctors can identify tiny amounts of cancer earlier than they could in the past.

That could mean that interferon, which can have severe side effects, isn't as necessary as it once was, said lead study author Kelly McMasters, MD, PhD, of the University of Louisville's Department of Surgery.

"What we found was that there was no evidence that interferon was necessary or helpful for this substantial group of melanoma patients," Dr. McMasters said. "That saves many patients the toxicity and expense of interferon therapy, which is like having the flu, only worse, for a whole year. Based on these findings, it would be hard to recommend interferon therapy for patients with minimal cancer in just one lymph node."

Dr. McMasters and team looked at more than 3,600 patients for around 10 years. Patients with melanoma that had spread to just one lymph node who were treated with high-dose interferon showed almost no difference in survival compared to those who did not receive the drug.

Dr. McMasters attributed these results to improved cancer detection methods and said that future methods would likely improve detection even further. She called for more research on the subject.

This study was published Feb. 15 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Schering Oncology Biotech funded this research. Information on conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
February 16, 2016
Last Updated:
February 16, 2016