What to Expect During Chemotherapy for Melanoma

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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.

Chemotherapy Drugs

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.

Isolated Treatment

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. 

Possible Side Effects 

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:

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.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Dec 18
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  4. Melanoma Treatment – Chemotherapy. Melanoma Research Foundation. http://www.melanoma.org/understand-melanoma/melanoma-treatment/chemotherapy