Immunotherapy may be giving hope to people living with rare skin cancer.
In a multisite clinical trial, researchers examined the use of Keytruda (pembrolizumab), an immunotherapy agent. They enrolled 50 patients with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare type of skin cancer that tends to grow fast and spread quickly.
After receiving Keytruda as first-line therapy, 28 patients saw their cancers shrink or disappear. The results lasted for two years after the first dose for almost all the patients, the researchers wrote. The team calculated a two-year survival rate of more than 68%, according to the findings published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Typically, patients with this disease receive standard of care chemotherapy, but these results show an increase in progression-free survival with Keytruda.
Grade 3 or greater treatment-related side effects occurred in 14 (28%) of 50 patients and led to treatment discontinuation in seven (14%) patients, including one treatment-related death.
“Pembrolizumab demonstrated durable tumor control, a generally manageable safety profile and favorable OS (overall survival) compared with historical data from patients treated with first-line chemotherapy,” the researchers wrote.