By Stephanie DeLuca BScPhm, ACPR, RPh, Clinical Trials Pharmacist
It is estimated that more than 5,600 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in Canada every year. Treatment for melanoma can include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy medication.
Ipilimumab is a new immunotherapy medication used to treat melanoma. It is given as a needle into a vein for 90 minutes, and is given once every 3 weeks up to 4 times.
Ipilimumab is approved by Health Canada for use in patients with metastatic melanoma who have not responded to or cannot bear other treatments for their advanced disease. Currently, Ipilimumab is available for other types of cancer through clinical trials only.
How Ipilimumab works
Your immune system has many controls to help it function properly. Ipilimumab works by letting go of a "brake pedal" that controls your immune system. By releasing this brake, your immune system speeds up so it can better attack and destroy melanoma cancer cells.
With any medication there are possible side effects which may be serious. Be sure to check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist before you start any new medications, including herbal medications and vaccines.
You should not get any vaccines for 30 days before receiving your first ipilimumab treatment or 30 days after receiving your last ipilimumab treatment.
Common side effects people may experience when taking Ipilimumab include diarrhea and skin rashes.
To help with diarrhea caused by ipilimumab:
- Monitor your bowel routine noting any changes such as the onset of stomach pain or tenderness in the abdomen, stools that are dark and sticky, or more frequent stools.
- Inform your doctor or nurse as soon as possible if you have ANY changes in your bowel habits
- Start to take anti-diarrheal medication as instructed
- See Tips for Managing Diarrhea, Cramps, & Gas
Skin rash: itchy or not itchy
To help with skin rashes caused by ipilimumab:
- Use a skin moisturizer
- Use sunblock of at least SPF 30 when outdoors
- Inform your health care team if you develop any skin blisters
If you would like to speak with a dietitian or pharmacist, ask a member of your health care team about a referral.