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Study: Interferon not beneficial for most stage 3 melanoma

By Stephen Feller   |   Feb. 15, 2016 at 2:08 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Interferon therapy, used to treat metastasized melanoma found in the lymph nodes or bloodstream, was found to have no effect on survival of stage 3 patients, researchers found in a new study.

The large study looked at patients with small amounts of melanoma detected in their lymph system, many of whom did not benefit when given the treatment.

Interferon is one of two drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for adjuvant therapy in 1995 and is used to prevent cancer from spreading. But the sentinel lymph node, or SLN, biopsy developed in the 1990s allowed doctors to detect microscopic levels of cancer in lymph nodes, catching it much earlier.

Researchers at the University of Louisville said they expect new drugs in development could be better for patients, saving some of the added expense of interferon treatment, as well as physical side effects described as "like having the flu, only worse, for a whole year."

"We started the Sunbelt Melanoma Trial to determine whether interferon therapy was warranted in this relatively lower risk group of stage III patients," Dr. Kelly McMasters, director of the Multidisciplinary Melanoma Clinic at the University of Louisville, said in a press release. "What we found was that there was no evidence that interferon was necessary or helpful for this substantial group of melanoma patients.

For the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers enrolled more than 3,600 participants starting in 1997 who were treated with interferon or simply observed after melanoma was detected in a single lymph node. Researchers followed up with participants for up to 10 years to track their cancer recurrence and overall survival.

Interferon therapy was found not to have a significant effect for any patients, the researchers reported, leading them to question whether the treatment was beneficial for any patients judged to have low levels of cancer aside from melanoma detected in their bodies.

"While the study did not quite meet its accrual goals and was underpowered to detect very small differences in survival, there was not even a trend for improvement in survival with interferon," McMasters said. "Based on these findings, it would be hard to recommend interferon therapy for patients with minimal cancer in just one lymph node."

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