New Medication to Treat Melanoma Shows Promise

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The medication sunitinib, which is approved for the treatment of kidney cancer and gastrointestinal stromal cancer, may also help patients with metastatic melanoma according to an article in the March, 2012 issue of Clinical Cancer Research. This new medication uses a patient's own tumor cells to create a customized treatment plan.


    The drug recently completed Phase II clinical trials. During the testing is was shown to be effective in treating skin cancer which occurs on parts of the body not normally exposed to the sun, such as in the mouth, on the soles of the feet and the palms of the hand. This type of cancer has previously been difficult to treat because it is resistant to chemotherapy, with only 5 to 20 percent of patients responding well to it. The new drug, however, had a positive response in over one half of patients in the trial.

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    Sunitinib works by turning off a protein within the tumor. This protein is created by mutations within the genes and when "turned off" cancer growth is significantly slowed. The study originally had 10 patients, however, only four were able to complete the trial. Of the four, three had positive results. One patient's metastases completely disappeared for 15 months and two others had remissions lasting from one month to seven months.


    The authors of the study are cautiously optimistic, but because of the small number of patients in the study, they remain cautious. In addition, this medication is effective for people with a specific mutation. Doctors would need to identify if a patient has the mutation, called KIT, before prescribing this drug.

     According to MedLinePlus, this drug can cause serious damage to your liver. You should contact your doctor if you experience itching, yellow eyes or skin, dark urine or pain in the upper right stomach area.


    You should avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice while taking this medication.


    Some of the side effects include:

    • Weakness
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Heartburn
    • Gas
    • Rash
    • Weight loss
    • Hair loss
    • Sweating
    • Changes in menstrual cycle

    For a complete list of side effects, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist or read the patient insert that is given to you with the medication.




    D. R. Minor, M. Kashani-Sabet, M. Garrido, S. J. O'Day, O. Hamid, B. C. Bastian. "Sunitinib Therapy for Melanoma Patients with KIT Mutations." Clinical Cancer Research, 2012; 18 (5): 1457 DOI:


    Staff Writer, "Sunitinib," Reviewed 2011, Oct 15, National Institutes of Health, MedLinePlus:


Published On: March 20, 2012