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Scientists Makes Strides Against Melanoma

Posted: July 23, 2007

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A 2006 study headed by Dr. Donald L. Morton, who helped create the technique, found that patients whose lymph nodes tested positive and then had the rest of their nodes removed enjoyed a much higher five-year survival rate, compared with people who tested positive but delayed removal of their lymph nodes.

"The risk of dying from melanoma was almost one-half reduced if you had the lymph nodes removed versus waiting for them to grow to a detectable size," said Morton, medical director and chief of the melanoma program at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John's Health Center, in Santa Monica, Calif.

Other scientists have found that boosting the immune system's ability to recognize and destroy cancer cells shows promise in treating melanoma.

In a recent study, National Cancer Institute researchers treated 17 patients with advanced, metastatic melanoma with white blood cells called T-lymphocytes that had been genetically engineered to better recognize the skin cancer. The result: Two of the patients went into a sustained remission.

Doctors believe this shows that such gene therapy can work, but much more work and many refinements remain ahead.