Targeted therapies for recurrent melanoma

Targeted therapies are drugs that target specific proteins (receptors) on the surface of cells. They may be called biological therapies. They are sometimes used to treat melanoma that cannot be removed with an operation.

Some targeted therapy drugs help the body’s immune system to fight cancer. This is known as immunotherapy.

Two immunotherapy drugs that are sometimes used to treat melanoma are:

  • nivolumab (Opdivo®)
  • pembrolizumab (Keytruda®).

They target a protein called a PD-1 receptor. This protein switches off T cells. T cells are part of the body’s immune system and help the immune system to fight cancer. The drugs attach to the PD-1 receptor so the T cells cannot be switched off. This keeps the T cells active, and may help shrink a tumour or stop it growing.

These drugs are given as a drip (infusion) into a vein. Possible side effects include tiredness (fatigue), diarrhoea, sickness (nausea), joint and muscle pain, and a skin rash.

Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you more information about these treatments if they are suitable for you.

T-VEC (Imlygic®) is a newer immunotherapy treatment that may sometimes be used to treat melanoma that cannot be removed with surgery. The drug is injected directly into the melanoma. Possible side effects include headaches, tumour pain, flu-like symptoms and tiredness (fatigue). Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you more information.

T-VEC may only be available in some situations. Your cancer doctor can tell you if it is appropriate for you. If a drug is not routinely available on the NHS, there may be other ways you can get access to it. Your cancer doctor can give you advice.

We have more information on what to do if a treatment is not available on the NHS.

Back to Treating

Making treatment decisions

Your doctors may tell you there are different options for your treatment. Having the right information will help you make the right decision for you.


Surgery is the main treatment for a recurrent melanoma.

Chemotherapy into a limb

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

Other treatments

Other treatments can be used to treat recurrent melanoma or help control symptoms.


Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy rays, usually x-rays and similar rays (such as electrons) to treat cancer.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you’ll have regular check-ups with your specialist. You will need to check your skin regularly and protect it from the sun.

Clinical trials

Many people are offered a trial as part of treatment. Find out more to help you decide if a trial is right for you.

Life after cancer treatment

You might be thinking about how to get back to normal following treatment. Find advice, information and support about coping with and after cancer.