By Stephanie DeLuca BScPhm, RPh, ACPR, Clinical Trials Pharmacist
In 2016, it was estimated that 6800 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers affecting young people aged 15 to 29. Severe sunburn can double a person’s chance of melanoma. Treatment for melanoma can include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy.
How to reduce your risk of melanoma
- Avoid Indoor Tanning Beds
- Sun Protection (even in winter or cloudy days)
- UV radiation peaks between 11am and 3pm. Avoid sun during this time and try to stay in the shade when possible.
- Wear clothing that will protect you from the sun and cover as much as your body as possible. This includes wearing a broad-brimmed had that shades your face, neck and ears and UVA/UVB sunglasses
- Use sunblock of at least SPF 30. Apply generously to dry skin at least 15 minutes before going out in the sun and re-apply at least every two hours when outdoors.
Immunotherapy treatment for melanoma
Pembrolizumab and Ipilimumab are two immunotherapy medications used to treat melanoma. Other immunotherapy drugs may be available but not yet approved or funded for melanoma in Canada. Both Pembrolizumab and Ipilimumab are given individually as an intravenous (IV -intravenous therapy is when fluids or medicine are added directly into the blood in your veins) every 3 weeks. Immunotherapy medications act on a person’s own immune system allowing the immune system to recognize and destroy melanoma cancer cells.
Pembrolizumab is a drug that targets PD-1, a protein on immune system cells called T-cells that normally help keep these cells from attacking each other in the body. Pembrolizumab blocks PD-1 which boosts the immune response against cancer cells.
Ipilimumab works by releasing “a brake pedal” that is regulating our immune system and by releasing this brake, our own immune system can speed up and attack and destroy melanoma cancer cells.
With any medication there can be side effects which may be serious or life-threatening. Check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you are starting any new medications, including herbal medications and vaccines. You should not receive vaccines for 30 days before and for a certain period after receiving your last immunotherapy dose.
If you would like to speak with a pharmacist, ask a member of your health care team about a referral.