In the past, some clinical research scientists have believed that melanoma was not sensitive to radiation therapy and that surgery and chemotherapy were the only treatments for skin cancer. But, according to a study by the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg, the new study contradicts this hypothesis.
Dr. M. Heinrich Seegenschmiedt presented the results of the study at the 39th annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) October 20 in Orlando, FL. He said that, in fact, radiation therapy is less expensive than chemotherapy and does not have the intense side effects that accompany that treatment. In some situations, however, radiation therapy could be combined with chemotherapy, he added.
Because of the absence of major side effects, using radiation therapy for melanoma, even if the disease has spread, improves the quality of life for patients, Dr. Seegenschmiedt added.
According to Dr. Rolf Sauer, chief of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Erlangen-Nurmberg, "using radiation therapy for melanoma we can lengthen the time of survival during which patients are more comfortable."
In the study, clinical researchers chose 121 patients for radiation therapy from a malignant melanoma registry consisting of 2,917 patients. This group was representative of the usual distribution of cases of melanoma as a whole and more than 100 of those in the study had melanoma that had spread to other parts of the body.
In all cases in the study, radiation therapy was not the first treatment-it always followed another therapy which failed or was insufficient. Nevertheless, it proved to be effective even when the melanoma spread within the body, the study reported.
The next step, the study concluded, is to conduct clinical trials that measure the quality of life, along with survival, using radiation therapy-with or without chemotherapy-- for some melanoma patients with an unfavorable prognosis.
The American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) is the largest radiation oncology society in the world, with some 4,000 members. As a leading organization in radiation oncology, biology and physics, the society's goals are to advance the scientific basis of radiation therapy and to extend the benefits of radiation therapy to those with cancer.