Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Melanoma Drug Trials Show Significant Promise

By targeting immune system, new treatments extend average survival

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, June 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A relatively new drug appears effective in boosting survival for patients battling advanced melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, according to a pair of preliminary studies.

The drug Yervoy (ipilimumab) "takes the brakes off the immune system," improving the body's ability to target and attack melanoma, said Dr. Philip Friedlander, a medical oncologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.

The two trials report that Yervoy can dramatically extend survival for patients with stage 3 and stage 4 melanoma, adding months and years to their lives both on its own and in combination with another cancer drug.

"It's a major breakthrough," Friedlander said of the medication, which the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2011. "It's a novel immune approach that's harnessing one's own immune system to fight cancer."

The results of both trials are scheduled for presentation Monday at the American Society for Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago. As such, the data and conclusions should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The five-year survival rate for someone with stage 4 melanoma -- cancer that has spread to other parts of the body -- now stands at 15 percent to 20 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

Yervoy works by blocking a receptor called CTLA-4 that normally deactivates the body's lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that form the leading edge of an immune system response. By blocking CTLA-4, the drug unleashes the immune system to attack cancer cells.

In one of these trials, doctors extended the median survival of 53 patients with inoperable advanced melanoma by roughly three and a half years, said presenting study author Dr. Mario Sznol, a professor of medical oncology at Yale School of Medicine. They did this by combining Yervoy with another immune system drug called nivolumab.

The combination therapy nearly doubled the overall survival found in previous studies of either drug alone, the researchers reported.

Nivolumab, which is not yet approved by the FDA, works by disarming the tumor's defense against attacks from the immune system, said Sznol.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

Malignant melanoma
About 40-50 percent of those who live to be 65 may get it. Here’s how to spot early.
Woman checking out tan lines
There’s a dark side to that strive for beauty. See them here.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
12 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Melanoma
precancerous lesions slideshow
Do You Know Your Melanoma ABCs
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
screening tests for men
Vitamin D
Is That Mole Skin Cancer
Brilliant sun rays