What to Expect During Chemotherapy for Melanoma
Doctors may prescribe chemotherapy to fight advanced melanoma—cancer that has spread beyond the skin. Chemotherapy drugs travel through the body and kill cancer cells. People usually receive chemotherapy in cycles, with each cycle lasting a few weeks. A period of rest follows each round of treatment. These breaks in treatment give your body time to recover. Here’s what you can expect.
Your doctor may prescribe one of several chemotherapy drugs to treat melanoma. Some chemotherapy must be given through a vein—intravenously—while other types are available in the form of a pill. These include:
Dacarbazine (DTIC): This drug has FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval to treat advanced, or stage 4, melanoma. People get the drug through an intravenous transfusion.
Temozolomide: This oral version of dacarbazine does not have FDA approval for treating melanoma. However, doctors often prescribe it to treat advanced forms of the disease.
Your doctor may prescribe other forms of chemotherapy for melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body. This includes:
- Platinum agents such as cisplatin and carboplatin
- Taxanes such as docetaxel and paclitaxel
- Combinations of chemotherapy drugs
- Combinations of chemotherapy drugs and drugs that target the immune system
Scientists are studying other chemotherapy drugs to see if they also might help treat advanced forms of melanoma.
Sometimes chemotherapy is isolated to a specific part of the body. For instance, melanomas often develop on an arm or leg. Then, your doctor might deliver the drug through a vein in that arm or leg. This may help protect the rest of the body from any negative effects of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy can cause many side effects. The drugs attack quickly dividing cancer cells, but they can also affect healthy cells in your body that divide quickly. Examples are bone marrow cells, cells in the mouth and digestive tract, and hair follicles. This can lead to side effects such as hair loss, diarrhea, and mouth sores. You may also experience:
- Bruising or bleeding
- Increased risk for infection
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
The side effects you experience also depend on the following:
- Dose of the drug
- Length of your treatment
- Type of drugs
Side effects usually go away once your treatment ends. However, they sometimes linger for a long time. Be sure to discuss possible side effects with your doctor. Ask about steps you could take to ease them.