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WCCS/EADO 2016 | New treatment approaches for Merkel cell carcinoma – checkpoint inhibitors

Isaac Brownell, MD, PhD of the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD gives an overview of his talk on new treatment approaches for Merkel cell carinoma held at the 2016 World Congress on Cancers of the Skin (WCCS) and the Congress of the European Association of Dermato-Oncology (EADO) in Vienna, Austria. Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare neuroendocrine cancer of the skin and it is more deadly than melanoma on a case by case basis. Patients with advanced disease had very few treatment options according to Dr Bownell; they would respond to conventional chemotherapy but progress rapidly. In order to find better treatment for these patients, two spearate research groups have tested different checkpoint inhbitiors; checkpoint inhibitors activate the immune sytem to attack the cancer. Both studies have had positive results and immune checkpoint inhibitors may soon be the standard of care for advanced Merkel cell carcinoma. The results show that a large group of patients with advanced Merkel cell carcinoma (metastatic disease that has left the skin) responsded to checkpoint inhbitor therapy, i.e. their tumors shrank. Further, patients who responded tended to keep their responses. According to Dr Brownell, the hope is that these drugs can cure Merkel cell carcinoma.