Hey Doc, Is This a Side Effect?

Melanoma medication side effects can be deadly if not treated

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) There’s no need to suffer in silence. Side effects of melanoma medications can be managed, but only if the patient tells the doctor about all of the symptoms as soon as they appear.

A recent study looked at side effects of ipilimumab (sold under the brand name Yervoy), a medication for melanoma-type skin cancer. Researchers found numerous serious side effects in patients, including skin rashes, gastrointestinal problems, nervous system dysfunction and organ failure.

Despite these adverse events, many patients had not told their doctors they were experiencing any reaction to the medication.

The researchers recommended better communication between doctors and patients concerning ipilimumab side effects to improve overall treatment.

"Tell your doctor about any medication side effects."

Caroline J. Voskens, MD, PhD, from the Department of Dermatology at University Hospital Erlangen in Germany, worked with a team of colleagues from all over Europe to investigate the side effects of ipilimumab.

Ipilimumab is used to treat melanoma that has already spread to other areas of the body. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and can spread very quickly to other organs or lymph nodes. 

Side effects of ipilimumab may be controlled or treated in the early stages. But first, patients must tell their doctors about the issues they’re experiencing.

According to the study authors, side effects of ipilimumab are experienced by 64 percent of all patients. Side effects range from headaches, dizziness and skin sensitivity to lymph tumors actually liquefying.

For this study, 752 melanoma patients taking ipilimumab were recruited from 19 skin cancer centers and screened for medication side effects. A total of 120 serious side effects were found, some of which were life threatening and even fatal.

Several patients taking the medication developed intestinal perforations, or small leaking holes in the stomach or bowels. Inflammation of the liver, pancreas and intestines, skin toxicity and heart trouble were also reported.

Several of the side effects were successfully treated with immunosuppressant or steroid medications.

Researchers found patients often delayed reporting side effects to their doctors because the medication was working so well.

Of study participants taking ipilimumab, 32 percent saw their tumors shrink. Tumors stopped spreading in 62 percent of the patients.

The authors suggested that patients and doctors be on guard for any of the wide variety of possible side effects from ipilimumab. Communication between doctor and patient about any side effects could reduce treatment costs, severity of side effects and even death, the authors said.

This study was published in January in PLOS ONE.

Authors said this study was an academic study with no external funding. No conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
February 7, 2013
Last Updated:
February 9, 2013