Targeted therapy for melanoma

Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to find and attack melanoma cells.

What is targeted therapy?

Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to find and attack melanoma cells that contain certain gene changes (mutations). Your doctor will check if your melanoma has a specific mutation before they can offer you this treatment.

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

Your doctor may suggest having targeted therapy after surgery for stage 3 melanoma. They will only suggest it if the surgeon was able to remove the melanoma, and if the melanoma has only spread to the nearby area or lymph nodes. This is called adjuvant treatment. It can help reduce the risk of the melanoma coming back again.

If the melanoma cannot be removed, or has spread to other places (advanced) you may have targeted therapy to help slow the growth and help you live longer.

Cancer growth inhibitors

Cancer growth inhibitors block the signals that tell cells in the body to develop and divide. Your specialist may recommend treatment with a cancer growth inhibitor if the cancer has a specific change (mutation) in a gene called BRAF.

BRAF helps control proteins involved in cell growth. About half of all people with melanoma have a BRAF gene mutation. Doctors can tell if you have this mutation by testing melanoma tissue that was removed during diagnosis or surgery. Different cancer growth inhibitors work in slightly different ways. These types of drug do not work for people with melanoma that does not have the BRAF gene mutation.

The main cancer growth inhibitors used to treat melanoma are:

These drugs are often given together. You take them as tablets. The drugs have some similar side effects, and some that are different. Your doctor or nurse can tell you more about these drugs and whether they are suitable for you.

There are also two newer targeted therapy drugs that may be available to treat advanced melanoma. These are called encorafenib and binimetinib. They are only helpful for people with the BRAF mutation. Your cancer doctor or nurse can tell you more about these drugs.

Clinical trials

There may be clinical trials looking at new immunotherapy or targeted therapy drugs to treat melanoma. Some of these trials test different combinations of drugs. This is to see whether the combination works better than one drug given alone.

Research is also looking at cancer vaccines. If there are clinical trials testing these or other drugs, your team will give you more information about them.