Skip to content
Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Melanoma Vaccine for Amelanotic Melanoma?

Updated: October 1st, 2018

An interesting question came up recently.

A guardian has a dog who is afflicted with amelanotic melanoma.  This is a special kind of cancer.  Normally, melanomas have pigment in them, and thus they are dark.

However, there is a more rare and odd kind of this cancer that lacks the pigment.

Melanomas can occur in different areas.  Some in the mouth (these are aggressive), some on the toes (these are less aggressive), and some on the torso (these are the least aggressive).  There are other things like size and whether there is spread that also give us information about how aggressive it is.

Why would one want to know?  Well, aggressive cancers need to be hit aggressively.  One would not consider radiation for a benign growth, but one might for an aggressive, large melanoma in the mouth of a dog.

What about the melanoma vaccine?   Well, this vaccine has been shown to provide real, substantial increases in survival times in some cases of melanoma.  Just to be clear, this is not a vaccine for protection.  It is used as a treatment.

Back to amelanotic melanomas.  Would the vaccine help a dog with an amelanotic melanoma?  It is an interesting question.  The reason in because the vaccine stimulates the body to attach cells with an enzyme called tyrosinase. Melanoma cells have a lot of this enzyme. Tyrosinase action is directly linked to how much pigment is made in the melanocytes.

But, in a lab, amelanotic melanoma cells were shown to only have up to half the tyrosinase that the pigmented ones did.

So one might suspect that the melanoma vaccine would not be as good for amelanotic melanomas.  The odd things is that it was found that in dogs with amelanotic melanoma in the study group, the vaccine seemed to work just as well.

For more information on cutting edge cancer treatments, as well as the other parts of Full Spectrum Cancer Care, check out the Guide.


Dr D


Leave a Comment

  1. wally derose on July 16, 2012 at 7:45 am

    We have 12 year olf female cocker with stage one oral melanoma inner upper right molar accoring to biopsy. Vet oncologist and surgeon recommmend immediate surgery followed by vaccine- how long do dogs survive percentage wise with this modality with this breed. She is still active and in good shape-we do not want her to suffer ad think the surgery willm make her more comfortable w/ teh vacine -are we correct -thanks

  2. Claudia Hodge on December 13, 2011 at 4:56 am

    In response to Kathleen’s post:
    Like all of you, my 8 year old Shar-Pei mix is battling cancer, Amelanotic Malignant Melanoma. It started in a digit, which was amputated back in late April. Since then, she has been on Palladia, with little to minimal affect on the lesions and received 4 doses of the melanoma vaccine. Again, with little to no affect on the present lesions. However, at this time we do not see anything suspicious in her chest and her purple tongue turned pink so it did do something. With little to no affect on the present lesions with Palladia and the MV, we began Carboplatin therapy. That was 3 weeks ago. There is a small sign of positive response in a lesion on her back leg however, the large masses on her belly continued to become increasingly angry after the Carbo treatment. Perhaps I made this devil more that’s engrossed her lower belly angry. Well good. I’m mad too. With all that being said, surgery is/was our only option for the larger mass removals, These masses grow and erupt aggressively, ulcerating and are bothersome to Chesney. As I type this, she is laying next to me re-cooperating from a 2 1/2 hour surgery done yesterday (12/12/2011) where we removed numerous, angry masses. .I guess what I am saying and wanted to share is that this cancer can or will not respond to therapy, regardless. Each case, each dog is different. All you can do is try and keep trying. I’m hoping that with the removal of the larger lesions, the Carbo, (along with immune therapy support, and diet) will be able to focus on the smaller and microscopic lesions with better success now. Only time will tell. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone and their beloved pet who is battling this disease.

  3. Kathleen on December 11, 2011 at 8:20 am

    My Scottie has a malignant melanoma on her metacarpal pad of her foot. It was removed, but the margins were bad. I’m taking her to the Vet School tomorrow for further staging and consultation. The melanoma vaccine has been suggested but it was an apigmented tumor, about 3 cm, unlike many that she has had before on her skin. Scotties, being short-legged and having big heads, do not do very well with front limb amputation. She’s just recovering from one surgery and now she is facing another. :-(. I was wondering if the vaccine would work for amelanotic tumors, do you have a reference for the study you cited?

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on December 21, 2011 at 7:57 am

      Dear Kathleen,

      I obtained this info from a correpondance with its inventor, Phil Bergman:

      “Yes, no difference in outcomes between melanotic and amelanotic (and this is predictable based on the pathophysiology of amelanotics still having tyrosinase but it not being functional due to pt mut’s)….

      Good luck,

      Phil Bergman, DVM, PhD, DACVIM-Onc
      Chief Medical Officer, BrightHeart Veterinary Centers”

      I would not rely in it all by itself however. I am sure you have considered chemo and done a treatment plan analysis of all available options? I’d be reaching for the other tools too in the Guide too: diet, apoptogens combo, neoplasene consideration, artemisinin, immune support, and so on, under veterinary supervision.
      Dr D

  4. cheryl on September 30, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Hi Dr Dressler,

    Thank you for your advise always 🙂

    1) I do need to clarify with you as I went through the dog cancer survival book on melanoma treatment and the chemo drug written there was carboplatin… is this right and not cisplatin? And it appears treatment is surgery and/or radiotherapy ( not an option here as we don’t have this in M’sia) and since the Oncept vaccine is available, many has opted out of chemo? I know chemo worsens the immune system and melanoma is very resistant to chemo most of the time from my readings, only about 30% success rate. It doesn’t sound like the success rate vs the immune system side effect a good case for me to opt for chemo for Sandy? What do you think?

    2) Since Sandy is the first here in Malaysia to be on the ONCEPT vaccine, I think you’ll be in better position to advise whether she should do the initial 4 shots again as discussed earlier as my vet has NO experience in this vaccine and in treating melanoma. Are there any side effects like other yearly booster vaccines which in the US, I noticed is not a practice to do it yearly unlike here?

    3) Sandy is on Glucosamine and since it is an anti inflammatory as well, is it safe for her to go on FULL dosage for the apocaps? Any serious blood thinning if I do so?

    4) I read that glucosamine is made from carbo from shell fish and converts to sugar… you have said to stay away from carbo and sugar but she needs it for her arthritis joint, what do you advise here?

    5) As with heartguard from Merials and since we leave in a tropical country with lots of mosquitoes, I have read to avoid this for cancer patient but worry about heartworm in case. She’s been on it for the last 15 years on the medium chewables, can I extend it to a 2 monthly admission and drop her to her small size chewable instead. She’s 25lbs, right at the top weight for small size?

    6) Can you let me know if I can buy Apocaps direct and have someone I can liaise with, buying via a friend is slow and shipping is expensive. Not so practical on a long term basis if I want to consider this for my other senior dogs as well?

    Thanking you in advance,

  5. cheryl on September 14, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Dear Dr Dressler,

    Thank you for your reply and great feedbacks.

    I noticed Apocaps is mainly herb based, can I use it for my other dogs without cancer? They are older than 10 years and I was thinking of using it perpetually for their senior years as a prevention of cancer?

    I have started Sandy, my 15 year old cocker spaniel on the oral melanoma vaccine. However for some reason, the supposedly initial 4 doses that was to be 0.4ml each unfortunately, came with a lower dosage. One was only at 0.2ml. Due to the long time taken for the vaccine to be shipped here, I gave her the shots still. We have effectively only 3 shots of the 0.4ml, if I take the lower dosage together because I used 2 of the vials for 1 shot to make up the 0.4ml.

    As such, I was thinking whether I should re-order 4 shots of the vaccine and give it to her again or just continue with the 6 monthly booster shots?

    One other problem, because my home’s electricity was down one day, 1 of the vials were not stored at the 2-7 degree C, however it was cool for a few hours. Would it post any problem or decrease in efficiency if I administer this to her?

    I read in some site for human treatments of melanoma also with some DNA protein based vaccine, it appears the no. of shots given varies depending on the individual and they don’t have schedules like dogs meaning 4 initial shots and then the 6 monthly booster shots.

    I think basically what I am driving at above is due to the lower dosage in the vials, which makes up a complete 3 shots of 0.4ml vials and 1 of the 3 being exposed to room temperature, should I restart her whole initial 4 shots again?

    I read oral malanoma cancers are very resistant to chemo treatments, as such I was thinking of giving it a miss since it can cause organ failure as well. Would you have done the same if in the same situation as me?

    Thanks for the great book written on cancer survival…. fantastic reference! 🙂

    Great work Dr Dressler for our beloved four legged family!!!

    Best Wishes,

    • DemianDressler on September 21, 2011 at 6:44 pm

      Dear Cheryl,
      I have used Apocaps in my senior canine patients at about 1/4-1/2 the labeled dose. This supplementation in my hands has yielded increased energy, mobility, and vitality which in some cases has been even scary!
      Dear Cheryl, under veterinary supervision, I feel I would likely go ahead and repeat the series at recommended doses, but do check with your veterinarian. As to the chemotherapy, cisplatin with the vaccine does extend survival time significantly.

  6. cheryl on August 23, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Hi Dr Dressler,

    I hope you will finally respond to my request on your blog and thank you for a great book on Dogs Cancer Survival Guide.

    My dog has been diagnosed with Oral Melanoma Cancer in the last 2 weeks and I have been wanting to try the ONCEPT vaccine. The vet here has tried it and it only gives 20-30% of their treated client a longer survival rate which seems very poor results compared to your experiences as written in your book.

    1) How do I increase the chances of her survival rate with this vaccine? There must be something else that you are doing right in the US and not with the vets here?

    2) Is this vaccine very safe and a must for melanoma patients?

    3) She is now on the cancer diet, 75% meat, 25% veges ( minus carbo based veggies), 2000mg Omega 3 Oil, 1/4 teaspoon barley grass, K9 Immunity and Transfer Factor, Herbal Treatment for her cancer, Maritime Pine Bark, Garlic and Ginger. By the way she’s a cocker spaniel, should I start her on APOCAPS as well? Can it come to Malaysia?

    4) Any other recommendations to increase her survival rate?

    Thank you,

  7. mpd on July 13, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Learned my 14 yr old lab mix has amelanotic melanoma that show signs of aggressively growing cells. Debating the cost of oncologist due to 2 surgeries to remove one on lip & other on rectum. These have set us back considerably so amh mostly hoping to learn what to expect the way of untreated cancer & what to look for in behavior . So far so good with eating & moving & attitude. Its been 4 mos since news. Thx

    • DemianDressler on July 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      Dear Frank
      the most important thing to do here is get data about your individual dog from your oncologist, as they are all different depending on the case. A useful question to ask (data collection is one of the first steps discussed in the Guide) is what is the gained life expectancy with treatment? This is different from life expectancy. I think this will quickly clarify what the cards on the table are at this time and help you in the decision making process.

  8. julie on May 23, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Dr. Dressler,

    Can you comment on the new cKIt agent masitinib and it’s applicability in various canine cancers. I have a 12yo with hemangiosarcoma and I want our oncologist to consider using it for her.
    Second question: Apocaps and chemo timing of beginning Apocaps. The label says not to give with prednisone, but that isn’t an option. My dog is on 2.5-5mg pred per day. What dose of Apocaps is appropriate?
    Thank you,

    • DemianDressler on May 25, 2011 at 9:06 pm

      Dear Julie,
      Sorry to hear about your dog…
      masitinib is brand new. The studies for non-mast cell tumors are very limited. So we cannot say. It would be an experiment with your dog.
      As to apocaps, I have certainly combined with pred, but only with caution. I am not sure of your dog’s weight, so I cannot say if this is a high dose of pred or not. Generally though, and of course under veterinary supervision, what I have done in my patients is drop the dose of Apocaps to 1/4-1/2 of the labeled dose, and give with a full meal, as long as the same precautions are taken as would be taken for NSAIDS. Discuss with your vet or oncologist for details about your particular dog’s ability to tolerate this approach.
      I hope this helps
      Dr D

  9. Susanne on May 5, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Hi, my dog Ginger had a tumor that was growing on the outside of her front shoulder about 6-7 years ago. We had it surgically removed. It was benign. The vet said to expect her to have more of these fatty tumors and we can’t do anything about it. She is now turning 13, her body is FULL of these tumors, most especially under her front shoulders. One is so big that her leg is turning slightly inwards. The vet said it is not recommended to do surgery. She has always been a difficult dog and this will be a difficult surgery due to the size, cost, what would be involved after the surgery, etc. To make matters worse, her pancreas and liver levels are very high so she drinks profusely and pees every couple of hours (she’s a big dog so big pees in the house when we aren’t there to let her out). Again, no medication for her due to her age. With these symptoms, we’ve adapted as best as possible but it hurts to see her struggle to go up stairs (yes, we give her glucosimine). Is there anything homeopathic that you can recommend to help her for the pancreas/liver? Is there anything we can do regarding these fatty tumors?

    Shot in the dark.

    • DemianDressler on May 18, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      Dear Susanne
      I would consider Denamarin as a very good quality supplement for those organs. If not, milk thistle.
      Consider Adequan injections and acupuncture.
      Consider strait curcumin (doses in the Guide).
      Have you started her cancer diet? Free download on top of this page.
      Hope this helps,
      Dr D

  10. Barb on May 5, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Our Labrador Retriever, Poppy, was afflicted with oral melanoma, and received the Melanoma vaccine in combination with site radiation, just a few months after it had been approved by the FDA for use in canines. With this protocol all cancer was contained in his mouth, and he lived for nearly 15 months after first being diagnosed with the cancer. He lived to see his 14th birthday and he had an excellent quality of life, save the last few days. What should be mentioned is that the vaccine was developed using human DNA, We were grateful to be a part of the Ohio State University Vet School program.

    Barb Jones

Scroll To Top