A trial looking at interferon treatment for melanoma skin cancer

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Cancer type:

Skin cancer





This trial compared interferon for one month with interferon for one year as treatment for melanoma.

Doctors sometimes treat melanoma with interferon (also called Roferon or Intron A). Interferon helps to delay or stop melanoma coming back after surgery.

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.

This was a pilot study. If the results were promising, the researchers would go on to do a larger phase 3 trial.

Summary of results

The researchers found that having interferon for 4 weeks was no better than having it for a year to treat melanoma.

This was a pilot study. It was a randomised study. The people taking part were put into treatment groups by a computer. Neither they nor their doctor decided which group they were in.

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 statistically significant Open a glossary item).  

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 (the stage Open a glossary item)
  • How many lymph nodes Open a glossary item were 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

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 (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Prof Mark Middleton

Supported by

Cancer Research UK
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust

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Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 408

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Over 60,000 cancer patients enrolled on clinical trials in the UK last year.

Last reviewed:

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