News & Press

Children and Melanoma

Years ago I worked at a hospital for children, raising money for pediatric medical research. The importance of this work was evident every time I walked the halls of the hospital. Seeing young children transported in little red wagons outfitted with IV poles was a powerful motivation to work harder for better therapies and cures.

Cancer—including melanoma—is rare among children. This, of course, is wonderful, but it also means that developing treatments for pediatric cancer is challenging in the extreme. I have recently been in touch with two companies who are each conducting studies for drugs to be used to treat children with melanoma. They need about 30 patients to complete the studies, but estimate that finding those 30 patients will take more than three years. 

The problem is two-fold. First, most doctors don’t talk to patients about engaging in these kinds of studies. Maybe the doctor is not part of the study, and is unwilling to refer their patient to another doctor. Maybe the doctor is comfortable with the old treatment approach, even if it is not very effective. Maybe the doctor is afraid of unknown side effects.

Second, not enough patients are willing to go into studies like this. They have the mistaken belief that they might be given a placebo, that the cancer will be allowed to grow unchecked. In the case of pediatrics, the parents are afraid to give their child something that hasn’t been tested in children—even if it known to be better than anything else.

These barriers are understandable, but misguided. In many cases, the new drugs being studied are much better than what is on the market. So, for most of the studies the choice is between receiving the current standard of care or receiving something better.

Three years to find 30 patients is too long. While cancer, and melanoma, is rare in children, it is absolutely devastating. Every month that passes means more delay in making the newest and best treatments available to the youngest melanoma patients. In the meantime, the children who are diagnosed with melanoma will be treated with drugs that have very little chance of saving their life.  

The solution is straightforward. Remember clinical trials can be an option. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor if he or she knows of any trials accepting new clients. And visit the MRF’s clinical trial finder to get personalized information.