Objective: To determine whether adjuvant postoperative active specific immunotherapy with a therapeutic polyvalent vaccine (PV) called Canvaxin can prolong survival following complete resection of melanoma metastatic to regional nodes (American Joint Committee on Cancer [AJCC] stage III melanoma).
Summary background data: Despite complete lymphadenectomy, 5-year overall survival (OS) for patients with melanoma metastatic to regional lymph nodes is only 20% to 50%, depending on the number of tumor-involved nodes. In 1984, the authors began phase II trials of Canvaxin PV as postsurgical adjuvant therapy for AJCC stage III melanoma.
Methods: Patients who received PV between 1984 and 1998 were compared with patients who did not receive PV postsurgical therapy between 1971 and 1998. The seven covariates recently defined by the AJCC Melanoma Staging Committee (number of metastatic nodes, palpable status, ulceration, age, primary site, pT stage, and gender) were included by Cox regression in a multivariate model of OS. A computerized program matched PV and non-PV patients by these covariates.
Results: Of 2,602 patients who underwent complete lymphadenectomy for AJCC stage III melanoma with regional nodal metastases and were followed up by the same team of oncologists between 1971 and 1998, 935 received PV and 1,667 did not. Median OS and 5-year OS were significantly higher in PV than non-PV patients (56.4 vs. 31.9 months and 49% vs. 37%, respectively; P =.0001). When the non-PV patients were matched by the four most significant covariates, 447 matched pairs were formed between patients seen before or after January 1, 1985, and the OS was not different between the two time periods ( P=.789). However, when the PV patients were matched with non-PV patients by six covariates forming 739 pairs, the PV patients survived longer ( P=.0001). Detailed analysis of the 1,505 patients who were seen or who began vaccine therapy within 4 months after lymphadenectomy, and who had more complete data on the seven prognostic covariates showed that median OS and 5-year OS were higher in 445 PV patients than in 1,060 non-PV patients: 70.4 versus 31 months and 52% versus 37%, respectively (P =.0001). Multivariate Cox regression analysis identified six significant prognostic factors: number of metastatic nodes, size of metastatic nodes, pT stage, ulceration, age, and PV therapy. PV therapy reduced the relative risk of death to 0.64 (95% confidence interval, 0.55-0.76) ( P=.0001); sex and site of primary were of borderline significance.
Conclusions: This large single-institution study independently confirmed the significance of prognostic covariates in the new AJCC staging system. By using modern statistical methods that controlled for all known prognostic factors, it also demonstrated PV's ability to significantly enhance OS. A multicenter phase III randomized trial is underway to validate the efficacy of PV as a postsurgical adjuvant.