Insights - Article

New drug therapies can improve the prognosis for melanoma patients

By Kevin Jones, RPh, MBA • April 21, 2016

New drug therapies can improve the prognosis for melanoma patients Melanoma

The topic of melanoma is of personal interest to me for a couple of reasons.  First, as a telepharmacist, I want to discover how I can more effectively care for my patients on a day-to-day basis.  Second, I have a history of skin cancer in my family, and I am interested in learning more about the disease.

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, and begins in the pigment cells (melanocytes) that produce skin color.   Most melanomas can be treated successfully if they are detected at an early stage.  However, if melanoma is not detected at an early stage, it can spread to other parts of the body and is potentially a lethal form of cancer.

I attended a seminar regarding melanoma at the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting in December. During her presentation, Dr. Morganna Freeman described the staging system (Stages I-IV) that has been developed to classify the advancement of the disease.   Treatment is determined for melanoma based on which stage of the disease the patient is experiencing, with some new drug therapies now available for the treatment of melanoma.  These therapies include immunotherapies (interferon alfa 2B, interleukin-2 and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (ipilimumab)), BRAF inhibitors (vemurafenib and dabrafenib) and MEK inhibitors (trametinib).

Pharmacists can help patients by providing information regarding some of the newer drug therapies that are available for the treatment of melanoma.  We should all be aware of the risk factors associated with melanoma.   Minimizing unprotected sun exposure, especially in youth, can significantly reduce the incidence of melanoma.   Early detection is the most critical factor in long term survival of diagnosed melanoma. Regular examination by a dermatologist is extremely important.  Once diagnosed, currently available drug therapies can be used to improve the prognosis and survival rates of those patients with melanoma.

Kevin Jones, RPh, MBA, is VP of Pharmacy Services at PipelineRx. He has over 25 years of experience as a pharmacist and pharmacy manager in the hospital, institutional and home care settings, including serving as Director of Pharmacy at Denver Health Medical Center.