• Chemotherapy for Melanoma

    Chemotherapy is not as effective in treating advanced melanoma as it is in treating some other types of cancer. However, it may slow the growth of the cancer and help to relieve some of the symptoms.

    Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body in order to kill cancer cells. The side effects from the chemotherapy come from the fact that it destroys normal cells, as well.
    Chemotherapy may be given either alone or along with radiation therapy. When given alone, it is given in a higher dose designed to kill off cancer cells. When given along with radiation therapy, it is delivered at a lower dose and is designed to make the cancer more sensitive to the radiation. Chemotherapy is usually given by vein, but some forms can be given by mouth as well. Your medical oncologist will tell you how many cycles or courses of chemotherapy are best for you. Usually there are between 4-6 cycles of chemotherapy given when the chemotherapy is delivered on its own, and up to 10 cycles of chemotherapy when the drugs are given along with radiation therapy.
    The most common agents used for treating melanoma are dacarbazine, temozolomide, cisplatin, and carmustine. Other agents may also be used. These drugs may be used alone or in combination with each other and with interferon. They may be delivered systemically or to an isolated area by perfusion techniques that introduce the drug into the main blood vessels supplying the area (usually a limb) that contains the tumor.
    The side effects and amount of time required in the doctor’s office depend on the type of chemotherapy you receive, as well as how many cycles you receive and how often. The most common chemotherapy-associated side effects are:
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Fatigue or tiredness
    • Hair loss
    • Pain, nerve damage, skin darkening, and muscle wasting when drugs are given in limb perfusion
    When chemotherapy is given at a lower dose, as when it is given along with radiation, these side effects are less common. However, most people still feel very fatigued.

    References

    American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/home/index.asp .

    National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/ .

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