The best treatment for you depends on the size and stage of cancer, your overall health, and your personal preferences.
Treating early-stage melanomas
Treatment for early-stage melanomas usually includes surgery to remove the melanoma. A very thin melanoma may be removed entirely during the biopsy and require no further treatment. Otherwise, your surgeon will remove the cancer as well as a border of normal skin and a layer of tissue beneath the skin. For people with early-stage melanomas, this may be the only treatment needed.
Treating melanomas that have spread beyond the skin
If melanoma has spread beyond the skin, treatment options may include:
Jan. 28, 2016
- Surgery to remove affected lymph nodes. If melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes, your surgeon may remove the affected nodes. Additional treatments before or after surgery also may be recommended.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given intravenously, in pill form or both so that it travels throughout your body.
Chemotherapy can also be given in a vein in your arm or leg in a procedure called isolated limb perfusion. During this procedure, blood in your arm or leg isn't allowed to travel to other areas of your body for a short time so that the chemotherapy drugs travel directly to the area around the melanoma and don't affect other parts of your body.
- Radiation therapy. This treatment uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be recommended after surgery to remove the lymph nodes. It's sometimes used to help relieve symptoms of melanoma that has spread to another area of the body.
Biological therapy. Biological therapy boosts your immune system to help your body fight cancer. These treatments are made of substances produced by the body or similar substances produced in a laboratory. Side effects of these treatments are similar to those of the flu, including chills, fatigue, fever, headache and muscle aches.
Biological therapies used to treat melanoma include interferon and interleukin-2, ipilimumab (Yervoy), nivolumab (Opdivo), and pembrolizumab (Keytruda).
Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses medications designed to target specific vulnerabilities in cancer cells. Side effects of targeted therapies vary, but tend to include skin problems, fever, chills and dehydration.
Vemurafenib (Zelboraf), dabrafenib (Tafinlar) and trametinib (Mekinist) are targeted therapy drugs used to treat advanced melanoma. These drugs are only effective if your cancer cells have a certain genetic mutation. Cells from your melanoma can be tested to see whether these medications may help you.
- What you need to know about melanoma and other skin cancers. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/wyntk-skin-cancer. Accessed April 28, 2015.
- Niederhuber JE, et al., eds. Melanoma. In: Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 28, 2015.
- Habif TP. Nevi and malignant melanoma. In: Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 5th ed. Edinburgh, U.K.; New York, N.Y.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 28, 2015.
- Intraocular (eye) melanoma treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/intraocularmelanoma/patient. Accessed April 28, 2015.
- Detect skin cancer. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/detect-skin-cancer. Accessed April 28, 2015.
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Final recommendation statement: Skin cancer screening. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/RecommendationStatementFinal/skin-cancer-screening. Accessed April 28, 2015.
- Melanoma. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed April 28, 2015.
- Reed KB, et al. Increasing incidence of melanoma among young adults: An epidemiological study in Olmsted County, Minnesota. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2012;87:328.