Medical researchers are developing new ways to treat advanced melanoma with greater success for patients. Targeted therapy is a new, effective treatment option that can shrink cancer cells and tumors and help melanoma patients live longer.
What Is Targeted Therapy for Cancer?
Targeted therapy is medication that interferes with the function of abnormal molecules within cancer tumor cells that regulate their growth. When the molecules have certain genetic mutations, they signal the cancer cells to grow and spread.
The goal of targeted therapy is to shut down the mutated molecules to slow the growth of melanoma cells—without harming healthy tissue.
Targeted therapy is systemic, which means that the drugs travel through the bloodstream to all parts of your body. Systemic cancer treatments fight cancers that have spread from their original location to other parts of the body.
How Does Targeted Therapy Work?
About half of all melanoma cells have genetic mutations in the BRAF (pronounced bee-raf) protein. BRAF and MEK, another protein, are molecules that help regulate cell growth.
A BRAF mutation triggers cells to develop abnormally and divide out of control. Targeted therapy drugs block the activity of the MEK protein and the mutated BRAF protein. In this way, the drugs slow or stop the growth and spread of melanoma.
Watch Dr. Evan J. Lipson of Johns Hopkins discuss more on how targeted therapy works.
New Targeted Therapy for Advanced Melanoma
Since 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved many targeted therapy drugs. Learn more:
- Vemurafenib (Zelboraf), a BRAF inhibitor
- Dabrafenib (Tafinlar), a BRAF inhibitor
- Trametinib (Mekinist), a MEK inhibitor
- Dabrafenib (Tafinlar) + Trametinib (Mekinist) in combination
- Vemurafenib (Zelboraf) + Cobimetinib (Cotellic) in combination
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.
Last reviewed: May 2016
Reviewers: Paul Chapman, Antoni Ribas, Louise Perkins