What is Metastatic Melanoma?

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As the largest organ of the body, the skin protects us from a myriad of conditions, parasites, and other foreign agents. Be that as it may, it is also highly susceptible to different diseases, viruses, and cancers. Different skin types can be more resistant or more susceptible to different conditions. One type of cancer that aggressively attacks the skin is melanoma: the later stage of which is known as metastatic melanoma.

Often referred to as the most hazardous form of skin cancer, melanoma tends to start as spots or moles on the skin. As a fast spreading cancer, this can quickly move into the surrounding skin and organs. Described as a cancer of the melanocytes (the cells which produce melanin: a pigment responsible for color in the skin), melanoma can actually start in many areas of the body. However, it is predominantly found in the skin. While it is less common than other types of skin cancer, melanoma is notorious for having low life expectancies – especially if not treated until the later stages – and becomes progressively more difficult to treat, as the cancer advances. The incidence for melanoma is expected to be 76,250 in 2012 according to the National Cancer Institute.

Metastatic melanoma is Stage III and IV of the cancer. This stage involves the spread of melanoma into the lymph nodes and other areas of the body such as the brain, lungs, liver and other organs. Being such a late stage melanoma, the metastatic stage has a 10-year survival rate of less than 10% (NIH 2009), with a life expectancy of 2-7 months, depending on the number of organs the cancer has spread to (Treatment Trials 2010). Many different types of melanoma are referred to as metastatic, once they have spread to a second site in the body. This includes cutaneous, mucosal and ocular varieties. Unlike some other aggressive cancers, as it spreads, the cells remain melanoma cells, instead of becoming another type of cancer.


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Figure depicts metastatic melanoma that has spread into the lymph nodes


There are many risk factors that increase the chance of developing melanoma. These factors include sensitivity and overexposure to the sun, fair complexions (especially those with fair skin, blonde or red hair, and blue eyes), individuals who have had severe sunburns as a child, those with a family history of skin cancers, and having a large number of moles (especially if they are of an irregular shape). It is highly advisable to have any strange moles or pigmentations of the skin checked by a physician, as soon as possible. When expecting to spend large amounts of time in the sun, always prepare yourself with sunscreen or sunblock and avoid extended periods in direct sunlight, during peak hours.

The prognosis of metastatic melanoma is extremely dependent on how far the cancer has spread. Because of how advanced Stage IV tends to be, prognoses are generally poor. Patients who are diagnosed and begin treatment before the cancer has spread to other organs have a much higher chance of successful treatment and survival. Metastatic melanoma has historically been difficult to treat, because of its aggressive, quick moving nature. In the past, some successful methods for fighting this type of cancer were found to create levels of toxicity in the body at too high an amount to be feasible as legitimate methods of treatment. However, OncoSec is currently involved in bringing new methods of treatment to the forefront of fighting metastatic melanoma.

Initial trials showed that OncoSec’s ImmunoPulse therapy is safe and can achieve effective results without the harsh side effects of traditional treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. This method of gene therapy utilizes a plasmid DNA construct that instructs the body to produce IL-12 protein: integral to stimulating the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. With a minimal dosage, this therapy has been found to be effective at killing melanoma cells, while being safer and less toxic then traditional therapies. In a Phase I study, 90% of treated lesions responded to ImmunoPulse therapy while 53% of patients with metastatic disease showed regression of at least some of their metastatic disease. Even more encouraging was that, 16% of patients showed complete regression of the cancer after only one treatment of ImmunoPulse.

OncoSec is currently enrolling participants for a Phase II trial using ImmunoPulse for Stage III-IV metastatic melanoma. Approximately 25 patients will be enrolled into this trial. It is believed that this treatment could be a safer and more effective alternative than current therapies for late-stage metastatic melanoma. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with this devastating disease, and you would like to learn about OncoSec’s ImmunoPulse therapy, please see more information on the  clinical trial.

If you would like to learn more about metastatic melanoma or OncoSec, please consult our website. You can also contact us on Facebook and Twitter.