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Melanoma Vaccine – What You Should Know

Written and medically reviewed by Dorcas Morak, Pharm.D

Updated on February 3rd, 2023

Save up to 88% on your medications

> The development of the Moderna personalized mRNA melanoma vaccine is good news for people with melanoma. In an open-label phase 2b clinical trial, a cancer vaccine developed using messenger RNA technology and administered together with the checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda) demonstrated promising outcomes. The outcome of the clinical trial showed that the combo treatment decreased the probability of cancer recurrence or mortality among melanoma patients by 44% in comparison to pembrolizumab alone. Check the information below for what you need to know about melanoma and its vaccine.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer that develops from melanocytes. Melanocytes are skin cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Melanoma is not limited to the skin as it can sometimes affect other parts of the body such as the eyes, genitalia, and inside of the nose.

Who is at risk of melanoma?

Melanoma can affect anyone. Older adults with light skin are more vulnerable. It is one of the most prevalent cancers among those under 30.

Is melanoma curable?

Melanoma is curable if detected and treated early. Knowing the signs of melanoma can help you catch it early.

What causes melanoma?

Long-term exposure to UV radiation is one of the main causes of melanoma. Your skin can sustain DNA damage from UV radiation exposure and can initially repair the damage without any harm. Melanoma, however, can develop when the rate of damage exceeds the rate of healing.

Is melanoma hereditary?

Melanoma can be hereditary if it develops because of a genetic mutation. BRAF oncogene is the gene mutation that is most frequently discovered in about half of the melanoma patients. Your body's ability to repair DNA damage is impacted when you inherit a gene mutation. Thus, it increases your risk of melanoma.

What are the risk factors for melanoma?

Knowing the risk factors below can help you figure out if you should be screened for melanoma:

  • exposure to UV for a long time
  • history of blistering sunburns
  • fair skin
  • family history of melanoma or other skin cancer
  • compromised immune system
  • old age
  • medical conditions like xeroderma pigmentosum

What are the signs of melanoma?

The first signs and symptoms of melanoma are changes in an existing mole or the development of an unusual-looking or new pigmented growth on your skin. It can also occur on normal-appearing skin and does not always start as a mole.

How is melanoma diagnosed?

The primary diagnostic procedure for melanoma is:

  • a skin check for signs of melanoma
  • a skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis

What are the treatments options for melanoma?

The treatment options for melanoma depend on factors such as its stage, any genetic mutations, and the person’s health status. These are the available treatment options:

  • surgery
  • radiation treatment
  • medications

What medications are used for melanoma treatment?

Depending on the circumstance, different drugs are used to treat melanoma. Examples include:

  • Immunotherapy: This involves the use of medications that help your immune system recognize and kill cancer cells. Examples include checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo).
  • Targeted Therapy: This targets features that are found in cancerous cells but not in normal ones. Examples are vemurafenib (Zelboraf) and dabrafenib (Tafinlar).
  • Chemotherapy: This involves the use of medications that destroy cancer cells directly.

How effective is the melanoma vaccine?

According to the phase 2b clinical trial of the melanoma vaccine, the combined regimen of the vaccination and the checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda) lowered the risk of cancer recurrence or mortality among melanoma patients by 44% compared to 10% in pembrolizumab alone. This study included 157 patients.

Fact About the Melanoma Vaccine

Here are facts you should know about the melanoma vaccine:

  • The mRNA vaccine is personalized: The vaccine is individual-specific and made to prepare the immune system so that a patient can produce a customized antitumor response unique to their tumor mutations. Researchers sequence DNA from the patient's normal tissue and DNA from the tumor to determine the precise mutations present in each patient. Then, scientists create a single synthetic mRNA that can encode up to 34 neoantigens and is based on the unique mutational signature of the tumor. This is to assist the patient's immune system to attack only the tumor cells.
  • Development and distribution happen quickly: The whole process starting from collecting patient samples to sequencing, using an algorithm to find specific mutations, producing the RNA, and administering the vaccine to patients takes roughly 6 weeks. This is so important because cancer can spread very quickly.
  • Adverse events higher in the experimental arm: There were more cases of adverse events, 14.4%, in patients getting the combination of the vaccine and pembrolizumab compared to 10% in patients that receivepembrolizumab monotherapy.
  • The melanoma vaccine is moving to phase 3 of the clinical trial with hopes to be reviewed and approved by regulators in the near future.

What will the vaccine cost?

The vaccine's price is not yet known. Nonetheless, with an RxLess discount coupon, the cost won't prevent you from receiving better treatment. When you use an RxLess coupon, you can save as much as 88% on your prescription at most pharmacies, including CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens.

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