Background: Melanoma is one of the most aggressive cancers, and it is estimated that 76,250 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma of the skin in the USA in 2012. Over the last few decades many drugs have been developed but only in 2011 have new drugs demonstrated an impact on survival in metastatic melanoma.
Methods: A systematic search of literature was conducted, and studies providing data on the effectiveness of current and/or future drugs used in the treatment of metastatic melanoma were selected for review. This review discusses the advantages and limitations of these agents, evaluating past, current and future clinical trials designed to overcome such limitations.
Results: To date, there are four drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for melanoma (dacarbazine, interleukin-2, ipilimumab and vemurafenib). Despite efforts to develop new drugs, few of them have demonstrated any clinical benefits. Approved in 1975, dacarbazine remains the gold standard in chemotherapy, although ipilimumab and vemurafenib have raised many hopes in the last few years. Combining dacarbazine or other chemotherapy agents with new pharmacological agents may be a new way to achieve better clinical responses in patients with metastatic melanoma.
Discussion: Advances in the molecular knowledge of melanoma have led to major improvements in the treatment of patients with metastatic melanoma, providing new targets and insights. However, heterogeneity amongst study populations, different approaches to treatment and the different melanoma types and localisations included in the trials makes their comparison difficult. New studies focusing on drugs developed in recent decades are warranted.