Radiation and Chemotherapy for Melanoma

Melanoma Treatment - Radiation

Radiation therapy uses high energy rays, like x-rays, to kill cancer cells. Although radiation is not an overly common melanoma treatment option, it is most often used as a symptom-relieving therapy in patients whose melanoma has spread to the brain or bones. In these situations, the radiation would not be expected to cure the melanoma, but it may help to make the patient more comfortable. Radiation may also be given to high risk Stage III patients after surgery, as a form of adjuvant, or preventative, treatment to reduce the risk of the melanoma spreading or returning. 

Radiation treatments only last a few minutes and are much like getting an x-ray, only the radiation is much stronger. Because of the strong energy that is used, radiation therapy requires careful planning to reduce the impact on surrounding, healthy tissues. Be sure to talk to your melanoma treatment team, especially your radiation oncologist, about the pros and cons of radiation for the treatment of melanoma. 

Possible side effects of radiation may include:

  • Issues to the skin at the site of the radiation
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Weight loss
  • Hair loss

Melanoma Treatment - Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a medication-based, systemic therapy to treat many types of cancer, including melanoma, by destroying melanoma cells throughout the body. The success of chemotherapy in the treatment of melanoma has been shown to be limited.

Chemotherapy is prescribed and administered by a medical oncologist, a physician specially trained in oncology. The medical oncology team usually consists of physicians and specially trained nurses.

Chemotherapy Agents

  • Dacarbazine (DTIC) is the only FDA-approved chemotherapy agent for the treatment of Stage IV melanoma. It is administered as an intravenous infusion.
  • Temozolomide is an oral form of dacarbazine. This medication is not FDA-approved for the treatment of melanoma, but is often used in that setting with similar efficacy to its DTIC.
  • Other chemotherapy agents are sometimes used for the treatment of metastatic melanoma, including the taxanes (i.e. docetaxel, paclitaxel) and platinum agents (i.e. cisplatin, carboplatin), all with limited success.

Many other chemotherapy agents are being evaluated for their use in the treatment of Stage IV melanoma as both single agents and in combination with other chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy agents.

Isolated limb perfusion (ILP)

Isolated limb perfusion (ILP) is a technique to deliver chemotherapy to arms or legs without causing overwhelming systemic damage. Roughly half of all melanomas occur in the extremities, and about 10 percent of patients with those lesions develop a recurrence.

If you are newly diagnosed, it is important that you learn about all available treatment options.