IT WAS only ten years ago that a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma – an advanced form of skin cancer – was synonymous with death in a short space of time. Recently, in one of the many cancer congresses held in Spain, specialists had the opportunity to meet a boy who was diagnosed with the disease five years ago, which oncologists call a long-term cancer survivor.
This case, unthinkable a decade ago, is possible thanks to immunotherapy. This treatment is revolutionising the way the disease is handled and many specialists believe this milestone is greater than when chemotherapy was discovered in the 1940s.
Unlike conventional treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, immunotherapy is not directed at destroying tumour cells, but instead is to stimulate the patient’s immune system so that it kills the offending cells.
In February this year, the first immunotherapy treatments were tried on five patients in Madrid that have solid tumours with a poor prognosis and from whom a further biopsy can be taken for analysis.
The Oncology department at the Alicante General Hospital is also currently taking part in the scheme, through various clinical trials, that seeks to develop new immunotherapy treatments and drugs.