Cutaneous melanoma: available therapy for metastatic disease


Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Sanjiv S. Agarwala, MD, UPMC Cancer Pavilion, 5th Fl, 5150 Center Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, or email:


ABSTRACT:  Survival of melanoma varies widely by stage, from a potentially highly curable disease when detected in early stages, to a disease with dismal prognosis when it reaches advanced inoperable stages. Stage IV melanoma defines distant metastasis and continues to comprise an ominous prognosis, with a median survival of 6–9 months. Currently, there is no therapeutic agent known to prolong survival in patients with metastatic melanoma. Therapeutic approaches studied in metastatic melanoma include chemotherapy, biochemotherapy, nonspecific immune adjuvants, cancer-specific vaccines, cytokines, monoclonal antibodies, and specific immunostimulants. Chemotherapy with single-agent dacarbazine is the only United States Food and Drug Administration (US-FDA)-approved chemotherapy agent for metastatic melanoma. Immunological approaches have yielded the only newly US-FDA-approved agent for metastatic disease in 30 years, high-dose bolus IL-2, based on durable responses in some patients with metastatic melanoma, but with associated high toxicity rate and cost. A number of novel therapeutic agents are undergoing active clinical investigation.