Therapeutic Given After Surgery for Melanoma is Less Effective in Older Patients

Results show importance of considering age of the patient in cancer treatment.

How melanoma patients respond to a medication given after surgery to reduce the chances the cancer will come back depends largely on their age, according to recently published research. 

Among patients with resected melanoma, scientists found that patients under 45 responded better to the therapeutic bevacizumab (Avastin) than those over 45. These differences in response to treatment may be related to biological changes that occur as people get older. The research was published in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). 

“Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that we cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all approach when selecting treatments for patients with cancer,” said Ashani Weeraratna, PhD, who is a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Cancer Biology and an E.V. McCollum professor and chair in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and professor in the Department of Oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Our work highlights the fact that younger patients can have very different responses to a given therapy compared with older patients. Understanding that the age of a patient can affect response to treatment is critical to providing the best care for all patients.”

Bevacizumab helps prevent blood vessels from reaching the tumor, causing it to “starve” for lack of blood. It works by inhibiting a particular protein, VEGF, that promotes the development of blood vessels near the tumor, a process called angiogenesis. 

However, the researchers found that the expression of VEGF drops, and another protein may promote angiogenesis as a person gets older. As a result, the therapeutic may be less effective in older patients with resected melanoma. 

“Our results underscore the importance of considering age in designing preclinical studies, in clinical trial enrollment, and when interpreting trial results,” Weeraratna added.