Ipilimumab is a type of medicine called a humanized monoclonal antibody. This is used for the treatment of advanced melanoma in adults.
Melanoma develops in the cells that produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin its color. This condition can also form in your eyes and/or inside your body. The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk of developing melanoma. Limiting your exposure to ultraviolet radiation can help reduce your risk of melanoma. The risk of melanoma seems to be increasing in people under 40, especially women. Knowing the warning signs of skin cancer can help ensure that cancerous changes are detected and treated before cancer has spread. Melanoma can be treated successfully if it is detected early. Melanomas can develop anywhere on your body. They most often develop in areas that have had exposure to the sun. These can also occur in areas that don’t receive much sun exposure. These hidden melanomas are more common in people with darker skin. The first melanoma signs and symptoms often are:
- A change in an existing mole
- The development of a new pigmented or unusual-looking growth on your skin
Melanoma doesn’t always begin as a mole. It can also occur on otherwise normal-appearing skin. It occurs when something goes wrong in the melanin-producing cells that give color to your skin. Usually, skin cells develop in a controlled and orderly way. Healthy new cells push older cells toward your skin’s surface, where they die and eventually fall off. But when some cells develop DNA damage, new cells may begin to grow out of control and can eventually form a mass of cancerous cells.
Tips to prevent melanoma:
You can reduce your risk of melanoma and other types of skin cancer if you:
Avoid the sun during the middle of the day.
Avoiding the sun at its strongest helps you avoid sunburns and suntans that cause skin damage and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Sun exposure accumulated over time also may cause skin cancer.
Wear sunscreen year-round.
Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 even on cloudy days. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply every two hours or more often if you’re swimming or perspiring.
Wear protective clothing.
Cover your skin with dark, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than does a baseball cap. Don’t forget sunglasses. Look for those that block both types of UV radiation.
Avoid tanning lamps and beds.
Tanning lamps and beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of skin cancer.
How does Ipilimumab work for melanoma?
Ipilimumab works in a similar way to the natural antibodies produced by our immune system. Our natural antibodies recognize foreign invaders and bind to them. It helps our immune systems to attack them and protect us from infections. Monoclonal antibodies like this medicine are made in laboratories and are designed to recognize and target specific cells.
Ipilimumab specifically recognizes and binds to a protein called CTLA-4 that is found on the surface of white blood cells known as T-lymphocytes. T-lymphocytes are cells in the immune system that attack and kill damaged, abnormal, cancerous, or infected cells. The CTLA-4 protein ‘switches these cells off’. Ipilimumab works by blocking the action of CTLA-4, which keeps these cells switched on. This enhances the immune response of the T-lymphocytes against the cancerous melanoma cells. The T-lymphocytes move into the tumor and kill the tumor cells.
How to use Ipilimumab?
This medication is given by injection into a vein by a health care professional. It should be injected slowly over 30 or 90 minutes as directed by your doctor. The dosage is based on your medical condition, weight, and response to treatment.
Your doctor may prescribe other medications to help with serious side effects if they occur or your doctor may delay your dose. If the side effects lessen, then treatment with Ipilimumab may continue. Use this medication regularly to get the most benefit from it. It may help to mark your calendar with a reminder. Tell your doctor if your condition does not improve or if it worsens.
What are the side effects of Ipilimumab?
Common side effects:
- Mild skin rash or itching
- Mild diarrhea
Tell your doctor right away if these side effects occur:
- The trouble with daily activities
- Severe stomach pain
- Loss of bowel control
- Urinating less than usual or not at all
- Heavy sweating or dry skin
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Feeling short of breath
- Rapid weight gain
- Fast heart rate
- Severe upper stomach pain that spreads to your back
- Being unable to urinate
Serious and sometimes fatal reactions may occur during treatment with Ipilimumab or months after stopping. Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms such as:
- Vision problems
- Muscle weakness
- Neck stiffness
- Feeling cold or tired
- This medicine may make you feel very tired or weak. If affected, you should take care if you need to drive or operate machinery.
- This medicine stimulates the body’s immune system and as a result, may cause inflammation in various parts of the body. This usually occurs when treatment is first started. You will need to have blood tests throughout your treatment to check for some of these side effects. If you get any symptoms of inflammatory reactions, you should tell your doctor straight away. Don’t try and treat these symptoms yourself because you may need other treatments to help control them and reduce the chance of them becoming serious.
- It is not known if this medicine will affect your ability to become pregnant or father a child. It is important to discuss fertility with your doctor before starting treatment.
- As this medicine may be harmful to an unborn baby, women who could get pregnant should use effective contraception to prevent pregnancy whilst having treatment with this medicine.
- This medicine is not recommended for children and adolescents under 18 years of age, as the manufacturer has not studied its safety and effectiveness in this age group.