Questions: What is the role of single-agent temozolomide in the treatment of patients with metastatic melanoma? In comparison with single-agent temozolomide, does the addition of interferon-α to temozolomide improve disease-free survival, overall survival, or response rates? In comparison with single-agent temozolomide, does the addition of thalidomide to temozolomide improve disease-free survival, overall survival, or response rates? Perspectives: Because of its oral route of administration and its ability to cross the blood–brain barrier, temozolomide is a potentially attractive chemotherapy agent for adult patients with unresectable metastatic malignant melanoma. To provide treatment recommendations for this new agent, the Melanoma Disease Site Group (dsg) of Cancer Care Ontario’s Program in Evidence-Based Care (pebc) decided to review the available literature on single-agent temozolomide and on temozolomide in combination with interferon-α or thalidomide. Outcomes: Outcomes of interest included response rates, disease-free survival, overall survival, quality of life, and adverse effects. Methodology: Evidence was selected and reviewed by two members of the Melanoma dsg and by methodologists. The present practice guideline report was reviewed and approved by the Melanoma dsg, which comprises medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, and dermatologists. External review was obtained through a mailed survey of Ontario practitioners, the results of which were reflected in revisions to the practice guideline. Final approval of the guideline report was obtained from the Report Approval Panel of the pbec. Practice Guideline: These recommendations apply to adult patients with unresectable metastatic malignant melanoma. It is reasonable to use temozolomide at a dose of 200 mg/m2 orally for 5 days every 4 weeks as initial systemic treatment for patients with unresectable metastatic malignant melanoma. The addition of moderate-dose interferon-α 2b has produced a significantly higher response rate than has single-agent temozolomide in a large randomized phase iii study. However, overall survival was not altered, and grades 3 and 4 hematologic toxicities were higher with the combined treatment. At the present time, the addition of interferon-α to temozolomide is not recommended. One randomized phase ii study and six other phase ii studies showed encouraging response rates when thalidomide was combined with temozolomide. However, the doses and schedules of temozolomide in those studies differed from the conventionally prescribed doses and schedules. It is not clear whether the improved response rates were attributable to the small number of patients in the studies, the different temozolomide doses and schedules, or the addition of thalidomide. Further phase iii studies are required to confirm whether a benefit is associated with the combination of temozolomide and thalidomide. Therefore, at this time, it is not recommended that thalidomide be combined with temozolomide. Qualifying Statements: Dacarbazine is the only chemotherapy drug currently approved for the treatment of metastatic malignant melanoma. In large randomized trials, response rates with dacarbazine ranged from 6% to 15%. Almost all responses were partial, with a median response duration of only 7–8 months. Given these disappointing overall results, the consensus among most physicians who are treating patients with metastatic malignant melanoma is that recommending more convenient treatment or experimental treatment to these patients is appropriate. Because of oral dosing, temozolomide is a reasonable choice, particularly for patients who would have difficulty traveling to cancer centres for intravenous chemotherapy. Temozolomide has demonstrated efficacy equal to that of dacarbazine in a randomized phase iii trial. However, unlike dacarbazine, temozolomide is a convenient oral treatment that penetrates the blood–brain barrier and that has shown activity against brain metastases. Although surgery is the preferred treatment modality for patients with solitary brain metastases from melanoma, temozolomide is the preferred chemotherapy for patients with brain metastases who require systemic treatment.
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