This page explores the various treatment options for melanoma and discusses the latest advancements in the field. Your healthcare team will discuss the best melanoma treatments for you and work with you to develop a treatment plan.
Surgery is the primary treatment for early-stage melanoma. There are several surgical approaches, including:
- Wide Local Excision: This involves removing the melanoma along with some healthy tissue surrounding it. The extent of the removal depends on the thickness and location of the tumor.
- Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy: To determine if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, a sentinel lymph node biopsy may be performed. If cancer is present, more lymph nodes may need to be removed.
Immunotherapy is a promising approach that harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Various types of immunotherapy drugs are employed in melanoma treatment, including cytokines like interferon alfa-2b and interleukin-2, which help immune system cells communicate and help control the immune response. Additionally, immune checkpoint inhibitors like Ipilimumab, Nivolumab, and Pembrolizumab are used to block checkpoint proteins that cancer cells use to evade immune attacks.
Targeted therapy targets molecules within cancer cells, such as proteins, that play a role in promoting cell growth and division. By focusing on these molecules, targeted therapy drugs inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells while minimizing harm to healthy cells. Approximately half of melanoma skin cancers exhibit mutations in the BRAF gene, which drive uncontrolled cell division. MEK and C-KIT gene mutations are less common. Patients with locoregional or metastatic melanoma are often tested for these mutations, and those testing positive may respond to specific targeted therapy drugs.
Radiation therapy employs high-energy rays or particles to destroy melanoma cancer cells. It is used for different purposes, including destroying cancer cells, reducing the risk of cancer recurrence after surgery, and providing relief from pain or symptoms in metastatic cases. External beam radiation therapy, delivered by a machine, is the primary method for treating melanoma skin cancer.
Traditional chemotherapy is not as effective in treating melanoma as some of the newer therapies. However, it may still be considered in certain cases, such as advanced melanoma that doesn’t respond to other treatments.
Participating in clinical trials can provide access to cutting-edge treatments and experimental therapies. Many breakthroughs in melanoma treatment have come from clinical trials.
Learn about other types of skin cancer:
 “Immunotherapy for Melanoma Skin Cancer.” Canadian Cancer Society, 2015, cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-types/skin-melanoma/treatment/immunotherapy. Accessed 27 Oct. 2023.
 “Targeted Therapy for Melanoma Skin Cancer.” Canadian Cancer Society, cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-types/skin-melanoma/treatment/targeted-therapy. Accessed 27 Oct. 2023.
 “Radiation Therapy for Melanoma Skin Cancer.” Canadian Cancer Society, cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-types/skin-melanoma/treatment/radiation-therapy. Accessed 27 Oct. 2023.