Two new international trials on advanced skin cancer have yielded results that have the health care community buzzing with excitement.  

In both cases, the new treatments — which were tested on advanced cases of melanoma — have been designed to help the immune system recognize and target tumors. The treatments utilize two new experimental drugs, pembrolizumab and nivolumab, that block the biological pathway cancers use to disguise themselves from the immune system.  

The medications were tested on cases of advanced melanoma in which the cancer has spread to other organs. This advanced stage of the cancer has proven difficult to treat and the expected survival rate once the cancer has reached this stage is typically less than six months.  

But in a trial of 411 patients evaluating the experimental drug pembrolizumab, 69 percent of patients survived at least a year. The drug is also being tested on other cancers in which the tumors use the same mechanism to block detection from the immune system, and so far doctors have been pleased with the results.

The other drug currently in trials is nivolumab, which was tested in combination with an existing immunotherapy drug called ipilimumab. In a trial of 53 patients, 85 percent survived beyond one year and 79 percent survived for two years and beyond.

Of course, both studies were small, but health experts are still excited about their promising results. Larger studies are underway and researchers hope to have more definitive data about the prospects of these two new skin cancer treatments within the next year.

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