Chemotherapy into an arm or leg for melanoma

Chemotherapy can be given directly into a limb to help control melanoma that has come back in one area.

Chemotherapy can be given directly into a limb (an arm or a leg). This is called regional chemotherapy. It can treat clusters of melanomas that have come back on the same limb. These are called satellite lesions or in-transit metastases. The treatment is only used if the melanoma has not spread anywhere else in the body.

There are two ways of giving chemotherapy into a limb:

  • isolated limb perfusion (ILP)
  • isolated limb infusion (ILI).

These treatments are only done in some specialist UK centres. You have them under general anaesthetic. You stay in hospital for 3 to 7 days.

A surgeon disconnects the blood flow to your limb from the rest of your body. They give chemotherapy (anti-cancer) drugs into the blood that circulates through the limb. A tourniquet stops the drugs going into the rest of the body. The surgeon flushes the drugs out of the limb before reconnecting the blood supply.

With isolated limb perfusion (ILP), the blood circulates through a pump that adds oxygen to the blood. A pump is not used with isolated limb infusion (ILI). Isolated limb infusion is used more often than isolated limb perfusion.

After the procedure, your nurse will closely monitor your limb and make sure your blood flow is normal.

The main side effects of this treatment are swelling, redness and occasionally blistering of the skin on the affected limb. These side effects usually get better after 6 to 8 weeks, but in some people they last longer. Tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects or problems you are having. There is usually something they can do to make things easier.

We have more information about having chemotherapy into a limb.