Targeted therapy for melanoma

Targeted therapy drugs target something in or around the cancer cell that is helping it grow and survive.

About targeted therapy for melanoma

There are different types of targeted therapy. Each type targets something in or around the cancer cell that is helping it grow and survive.

You only have targeted therapy to treat melanoma if tests show that the cancer cells have a change (mutation) in a gene called BRAF. This treatment has not been shown to be useful or safe unless the cancer cells have this change.

You usually have 2 targeted therapy drugs in combination to treat melanoma. Combinations include:

These drugs are also called cancer growth inhibitors. Each combination includes a drug called a braf inhibitor. The drugs block the signals that tell cells in the body to develop and divide. By blocking the signals, these drugs may stop cancer cells from developing or dividing.

Sometimes, dabrafenib and trametinib are used after surgery to reduce the risk of melanoma coming back. This is called adjuvant treatment. These drugs are used to treat melanoma if it cannot be removed with surgery or has spread (advanced melanoma).

Sometimes you have targeted therapy drugs as part of a clinical trial.

How targeted therapy is given

You take the drugs as tablets or capsules every day. Different drugs are taken in slightly different ways. It is important to follow your cancer team’s advice about how to take each drug.

If you are having treatment to reduce the risk of melanoma coming back after surgery, you take them for 12 months.

For melanoma that has spread, you usually keep taking the drugs, as long as they are working and not causing difficult side effects.

Contraception and fertility during treatment

Your doctor may ask you to use contraception to prevent pregnancy during and after some types of targeted therapy for melanoma. This is important if the treatment may harm a developing baby.

Some targeted therapy drugs can affect your fertility. This means being able to get pregnant or make someone pregnant. Your doctor or nurse can explain if your treatment is likely to cause fertility problems. If you are worried about this, talk to your doctor before your treatment starts.

Possible side effects

Your cancer doctor or nurse will explain the possible side effects of the drugs you are having. They will give you advice about how these can be managed. Always tell them about any side effects you have so they can help.

Some common side effects include:

  • feeling sick
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • itchy rash or dry, sensitive skin
  • sore and red palms of hands and soles of feet
  • muscle or joint pain.

We have more information about side effects of:

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our melanoma information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Michielin O, van Akkooi ACJ, Ascierto PA, et al. Cutaneous melanoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2019; 30, 12, 1884-1901 [accessed May 2022].

    Michielin O, van Akkooi ACJ, Ascierto PA, et al. ESMO consensus conference recommendations on the management of locoregional melanoma: under the auspices of the ESMO Guidelines Committee. Annals of Oncology. 2020; 31, 11, 1449-1461 [accessed May 2022].

    Peach H, Board R, Cook M, et al. Current role of sentinel lymph node biopsy in the management of cutaneous melanoma: A UK consensus statement. Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery. 2020; 73, 1, 36-42 [accessed May 2022].

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Samra Turajlic, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 October 2022
Next review: 01 October 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.