- How is melanoma skin cancer treated?
- Types of surgery for melanoma skin cancer
- Chemotherapy for melanoma skin cancer
- Immunotherapy for melanoma skin cancer
- Targeted therapy for melanoma skin cancer
- Radiation therapy for melanoma skin cancer
- Clinical trials for melanoma skin cancer
- Complementary and alternative therapies for melanoma skin cancer
Targeted therapy for melanoma skin cancer
As doctors have found some of the gene changes that make melanoma cells different from normal cells, they have begun to develop drugs that attack these changes. These targeted drugs work in a different way from standard chemotherapy drugs. Sometimes, they work when chemotherapy doesn’t. They can also have less severe side effects. Doctors are still learning the best way to use these drugs to treat melanoma.
Drugs that target changes in the BRAF gene
About half of all melanomas have changes (mutations) in the BRAF gene. These changes cause the gene to make a protein that tells the melanoma cells to grow and divide quickly. Drugs that target this protein can be used in patients with advanced melanoma who have a this BRAF mutation. These drugs are not likely to work in patients whose melanomas have a normal BRAF gene.
For instance, the drug Vemurafenib (Zelboraf) is taken as a pill, twice a day. The most common side effects are joint pain, fatigue, hair loss, rash, itching, sensitivity to the sun, and nausea. Less common but serious side effects can occur, such as heart rhythm problems, liver problems, severe allergic reactions, and severe skin or eye problems. Some people treated with vemurafenib get new skin cancers called squamous cell carcinomas, which are usually not serious.
Other drugs that target changes in the BRAF gene are now being studied as well (see “What’s new in melanoma skin cancer research?”)
Last Medical Review: 09/26/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013