For people with a certain type of metastatic melanoma, there may be reason for cautious optimism.
Stephen Hodi, MD and his colleagues at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston recently reported that they produced a dramatic remission in the advanced (stage IV) melanoma of a 79-year-old woman who had tumors in several parts of her abdomen.
Tests had revealed that the woman’s tumor cells carried an abnormality in a gene called KIT, which is found in 15-20% of some types of melanoma. This gave doctors the clue they needed. They administered Gleevec (also known by the generic name imatinib), an experimental drug known to target that gene. After only one month, two of her tumor masses had disappeared and several others had shrunk significantly. She’s been taking Gleevec for nine months now and her condition remains stable -- a remarkable and rare success story.
This report has created quite a buzz in the skin cancer community mainly because it is the first potential ray of hope for patients with few other effective options. Researchers had been searching for just such an Achilles’ heel in metastatic melanoma but had failed to make any significant progress until now.
Is Gleevec a cure for metastatic melanoma? Unfortunately, it’s too early to tell. But if this case is confirmed and repeated, it may represent a first step toward the long-term goal of cancer care: safe and effective treatments that are “personalized” based on an individual’s specific biological makeup.
If you or a loved one would like to participate in the clinical trial that is currently testing Gleevec, ask your physician if you’re eligible.
Hodi FS, Friedlander P, Corless CL, Heinrich MC, Mac Rae S, Kruse A, Jagannathan J, Van den Abbeele AD, Velazquez EF, Demetri GD, Fisher DE. “Major response to imatinib mesylate in KIT-mutated melanoma.” Journal of Clinical Oncology 20 April 2008 26(12):2046-51. 17 July 2008