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Int J Cancer. 2007 Dec 1;121(11):2562-6.

Autoimmunity as a prognostic factor in melanoma patients treated with adjuvant low-dose interferon alpha.

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Department of Dermatology and Allergology, Hannover Medical School, Hautklinik Linden, Klinikum Region Hannover, Skin Cancer Center Hannover, Hannover, Germany.


Interferon alpha is used for the adjuvant treatment of malignant melanoma at different dosages (high-, intermediate-, low-dose therapy). Only a minority of patients might benefit from this therapy, and markers to identify such patients are missing. A recent study suggested that melanoma patients developing autoantibodies or clinical manifestations of autoimmunity during adjuvant high-dose interferon alpha treatment had a significant survival benefit. We retrospectively reviewed 134 melanoma patients from our institution treated with adjuvant low-dose interferon alpha therapy and correlated the development of autoimmune diseases with prognosis. Interferon (IFN) therapy was routinely monitored by history, physical examination and laboratory tests before, after the first month and then after every 3 months of therapy. During a median follow up of 46.0 months (8.5-79.0 months) 28 patients (20.9%) suffered from recurrences and melanoma related deaths occurred in 16 patients (11.9%). In 20 patients (14.9%) autoimmune thyroiditis (AIT) was diagnosed during IFN therapy, one of these 20 patients developed rheumatoid arthritis later while continuing IFN therapy. Other autoimmune diseases were not observed. In 2 patients (one with AIT and one with arthritis) the autoimmune disease led to discontinuation of IFN therapy, in the other patients AIT remained subclinical or responded well to treatment while IFN therapy was continued. Kaplan-Meier analyses revealed a significant better recurrence free survival and a trend for a better overall survival for patients with AIT. Thus, autoimmunity triggered by low-dose IFN therapy appears to indicate an improved prognosis and should encourage continuation of IFN therapy.

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