Receiving a diagnosis of melanoma can be overwhelming. Knowing your treatment options can go a long way toward relieving your stress.
Today, there is new hope with recent advancements in treatment options, even for advanced cases. Several new FDA-approved treatments are improving outcomes for patients at all stages of melanoma.
New Advances in Melanoma Treatment
In its early stages, melanoma is highly treatable through surgery to remove the cancerous cells. Because melanoma is more likely to spread (metastasize) than other skin cancers, it can become very serious.
As the cancer worsens and spreads, melanoma can be difficult to treat with conventional therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Cancer researchers are focusing on two new options—immunotherapy and targeted therapy—as effective treatments for advanced melanoma.
Treatment Options for Melanoma
Your treatment options depend on the stage of your melanoma and your overall health. During its early stages, melanoma can be successfully treated with surgery alone. Other types of cancer treatment are effective for more advanced stages of melanoma.
Your treatment options include one or a combination of the following treatments:
The main treatment for melanoma is surgical resection (removal). Wide local excision, a minor surgery, can usually cure early-stage melanoma.
Patients with stage III melanoma (cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes) may need lymphadenectomy, or surgery to remove the involved lymph nodes.
Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that stimulates the immune system to fight cancer anywhere in the body. This treatment may be either systemic, meaning that the drugs travel through the bloodstream, or local, injected into or near an accessible tumor.
Learn more about treatment options using immunotherapy for melanoma.
Targeted therapy is cancer treatment that focuses on specific molecules within cancer cells. The drugs work by blocking the function of abnormal molecules to slow the growth and spread of cancer, such as melanoma.
Targeted therapy is also systemic, and the drugs can be used with one another or in combination with other therapies. Learn more about targeted therapy and how it works, as well as how combination therapy works.
Adjuvant therapy is additional treatment given after the primary treatment for melanoma (usually surgery) to reduce the risk of the cancer returning. Read more about current adjuvant therapy as well as therapies in development.
Cancer treatment that uses energy rays, such as X-rays, to destroy cancer cells is called radiation therapy. Physicians usually use radiation to treat melanoma in patients for whom surgery is a high risk or not possible.
Another systemic treatment option is chemotherapy, which uses drugs that stop the growth of cancer cells, either destroying them or stopping them from dividing. Patients can receive chemotherapy as a pill by mouth or as an injection into a blood vein. With the latest advances in targeted therapy and new immunotherapies, chemotherapy is used much less often to treat patients with advanced metastatic melanoma. Advanced metastatic melanoma is defined as cancer in stages IIIC or IV that cannot be removed by surgery and has spread from its original site to other parts of the body.
Latest Treatments for Advanced Melanoma
Since 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several new treatments for melanoma and adjuvant therapy for high risk melanoma (stages IIB, IIC, III, and IV). Learn more about these types of cancer treatment:
Since its founding in 2007, the Melanoma Research Alliance has awarded over $79 million to research aimed at better preventing, diagnosing and treating melanoma. Learn more about our funded research.