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.
Surgery for Melanoma
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 the lymph nodes) may need lymphadenectomy, or surgery to remove the involved lymph nodes. For advanced melanoma, surgery is frequently combined with immunotherapy or targeted therapy.
Immunotherapy for Advanced Melanoma
Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that stimulates the immune system to fight cancer anywhere in the body. This treatment may either be systemic, meaning that the drugs travel through the bloodstream, or local, injected into or near an accessible tumor.
- Ipilimumab (Yervoy), an anti-CTLA-4 antibody
- Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), an anti-PD-1 antibody
- Nivolumab (Opdivo), an anti-PD-1 antibody
- T-VEC (Imlygic), an oncolytic virus therapy
- Nivolumab (Opdivo) + Ipilimumab (Yervoy) in combination
- Aldesleukin (Proleukin), interleukin-2 (IL-2)
Learn more about treatment options using immunotherapy for advanced 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.
- 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
- Encorafenib (Braftovi) + Binimetinib (Mektovi) in combination
Adjuvant Therapy for Melanoma
Adjuvant therapy is additional treatment given after the primary treatment for melanoma (usually surgery) to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
- Interferon (Intron and Sylatron)
- Ipilimumab (Yervoy)
- Nivolumab (Opdivo)
- Dabrafenib + Trametinib (Tafinlar + Mekinist)
- Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
Learn more about current adjuvant therapy options.
Radiation Therapy for Melanoma
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.
Chemotherapy for Melanoma
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, or metastatic, melanoma.
Melanoma Clinical Trials
When making treatment decisions, patients should consider all their treatment options, including clinical trials. Some people think that clinical trials are only for late-stage disease or should only be considered after undergoing treatments that are currently approved, but that is only a myth.
Since its founding in 2007, the Melanoma Research Alliance has awarded over $100 million to research aimed at better preventing, diagnosing and treating melanoma. Learn more about our funded research.
Updated December 2017