• Radiation Therapy for Melanoma

    Radiation is usually given to relieve symptoms caused by melanoma that has spread to the bone or brain. It generally does not cure melanoma. In certain circumstances, radiation therapy may be offered in a more curative approach. There is data suggesting that when radiation therapy is given to the head and neck, after surgery, it can significantly reduce the chances of the cancer coming back and/or spreading to the nearby lymph nodes. This ability to reduce the chances of the cancer’s return has translated into a survival advantage in some cases and should be discussed with your radiation oncologist. In any case, the successful treatment of melanoma is a multi-modality approach and surgeons, dermatologists, medical and radiation oncologists should be involved in your care and should work together from the beginning to plan your best course of treatment.

    External Radiation Therapy

    In external beam radiation therapy, radiation is produced by a machine called a linear accelerator. Short bursts of x-rays are fired from the machine at your cancer. The x-rays come out in a square-shaped manner, and the radiation oncologist designs special blocks to shape the radiation beam so that it treats the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible.
    Radiation of a Tumor
    IMAGE
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    Like chemotherapy, the side effects from radiation result from injury to the normal tissues. There are many new ways that the radiation oncologist can customize your treatment to try and kill as much cancer while sparing as much normal tissue as possible. The radiation oncologist will determine how many treatments you will receive; sometimes they will be once a day and sometimes twice per day. Each treatment generally only takes a few minutes, and the total treatment time can range from 5-8 weeks depending on the total dose required.
    Many people believe that once you have received a certain dose of radiation you can no longer get any more treatment. It is true that each tissue in the body can only safely tolerate a certain dose of radiation. However, the therapy is very focused, and it is possible that you can get additional treatments to an already treated area or certainly to an area not yet treated. Ask your radiation oncologist about what dose you can safely receive.
    You may experience side effects common to radiation therapy, including:
    • Fatigue
    • Skin changes (redness, irritation)
    • Feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, frustration
    • Reduced white blood cell count

    When to Contact Your Doctor

    Call your doctor if you:
    • Develop side effects from the treatment
    • Develop new or unusual symptoms

    References

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

    Mendenhall WM, Amdur RJ, Grobmyer SR, et al. Adjuvant radiotherapy for cutaneous melanoma. Cancer . 2008 Mar 15;112(6):1189-96. Review.

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

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