Last year in the UK over 60,000 cancer patients enrolled on clinical trials aimed at improving cancer treatments and making them available to all.
A trial looking at interferon treatment for melanoma skin cancer
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This trial compared interferon for one month with interferon for one year as treatment for melanoma.
Some people have interferon 5 days a week for 4 weeks, and then 3 times a week for about another 48 weeks. So they have treatment for a year altogether.
Doctors thought that interferon might work just as well if people had only the first 4 weeks of treatment and not the extra 48 weeks. But they weren’t sure. Interferon can have serious side effects, so it is important that people don’t have it if they don’t need it.
In this trial the researchers compared 4 weeks of treatment to treatment for a year. The aim of the trial was to see which was better. They looked at how well the treatment worked and what the side effects were.
Summary of results
The researchers found that having interferon for 4 weeks was no better than having it for a year to treat melanoma.
Of the 194 people this study recruited
- 96 had interferon for 4 weeks only
- 98 had interferon for 1 year
A year after treatment, the researchers found that more people who had treatment for a year were still alive than those who had 4 weeks treatment. They said this couldn’t have happened by chance (it was
The researchers looked at the number of people whose melanoma hadn’t come back 2 years after their treatment with interferon finished. It was
- 50 out of every 100 people (50%) for those who had 4 weeks of interferon
- 54 out of every 100 people (54%) for those who had interferon for a year
The researchers said that this could have happened by chance when they considered the following factors
- The size of each person’s melanoma and how far it had spread (
- How many
lymph nodeswere affected
- How deep the melanoma had grown into the skin
Of the 21 people who didn’t complete their 4 weeks of interferon
- 13 stopped due to side effects
- 3 because their melanoma continued to grow
- 5 decided to stop treatment
Of the 69 people who didn’t complete their year of interferon
- 25 stopped due to side effects
- 12 because their melanoma continued to grow
- 19 decided to stop treatment
- 2 unfortunately died
- 11 gave other reasons
The most common side effects in both groups were
- A drop in blood cells causing an increased risk of infection
- Feeling or being sick
- Changes to how the liver worked
- Flu like symptoms
The study team concluded that having interferon for a month was no better than having it for a year after surgery and that there was no reason to do a phase 3 trial.
We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Prof Mark Middleton
Cancer Research UK
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust