The primary treatment for melanoma is surgical removal of the tumor. For metastatic melanoma or in cases when surgery is not an option, immunotherapy or targeted therapy may be used.
Immunotherapy, or biological response modifier therapy, involves using medications to boost the effects of the body's immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells. These medications are given through an IV or injected under the skin.
Types of immunotherapy medications include:
Side effects include chills, fever, aches, depression, skin reactions, and fatigue.
About half of melanomas have a gene mutation known as BRAF. This gene causes the body to make proteins that accelerate the growth of cancer cells. Targeted therapy uses medications to seek out the cells with the BRAF mutation and destroy them.
Targeted therapy medications include:
Although these medications do not offer a cure for advanced melanoma, they can prolong life. The most common side effects are joint pain, fatigue, hair loss, rash, itching, sensitivity to the sun, and nausea.
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Melanoma. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/cancers-of-the-skin/melanoma. Updated July 2015. Accessed October 20, 2016.
Melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003120-pdf.pdf. Accessed October 20, 2016.
Stein JA, Brownell I. Treatment approaches for advanced cutaneous melanoma. J Drugs Dermatol. 2008;7(2):175-179.
Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/melanoma-treatment-pdq#section/_135. Updated July 22, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2016.
Treatment options by stage. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/melanoma-treatment-pdq#section/_165. Updated July 22, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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