BACKGROUND: Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It involves melanocytes, which are cells that produce melanin. Melanin is responsible for skin and hair color. Melanoma can also involve the colored part of the eye. Melanoma can appear on normal skin, or it may begin as a mole or other area that has changed in appearance. Some moles, present at birth, can develop into melanomas. There are four major types of the disease. Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type. It is usually flat and irregular in shape and color, with different shades of black and brown. Nodular melanoma usually starts as a raised area that is dark blackish-blue or bluish-red. However, some do not have any color. Lentigo maligna melanoma usually occurs in the elderly. It is most common in sun-damaged skin on the face, neck, and arms. Acral lentiginous melanoma is the least common form of melanoma. It usually occurs on the palms, soles, or under the nails.
(SOURCE: National Center for Biotechnology Information)
NEW DRUG: Ipilimumab is used to treat melanoma that can't be removed with surgery or has spread to other parts of the body. It is a type of immunotherapy known as a monoclonal antibody. A monoclonal antibody is a manmade version of an immune system protein that fits like a lock and key with a certain protein in the body.
Ipilimumab is designed to find and lock onto CTLA-4 -- a protein that normally helps keep immune system cells, called T cells, in check. By blocking the action of the protein, ipilimumab is thought to boost the immune response against melanoma cells in the body. Ipilimumab is given as an infusion into a vein, usually over about 90 minutes. It is given once every three weeks for a total of four doses. The dose given is based on your body weight.
The next dose may be delayed if there are immune-related side effects, or the drug may be stopped permanently if there are more serious side effects. The drug works by removing the brakes of the body's immune system. This can lead to serious side effects if the immune system starts to attack other parts of the body. In some people, these side effects have been fatal. They most often occur during treatment, but some have been reported up to a few months after treatment has finished. The drug may also cause inflammation in the liver, which in some cases, may lead to liver failure. Some of the most common side effects of ipilimumab include feeling tired, a skin rash, itching, and diarrhea. (SOURCE: American Cancer Society)