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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - Treatment Option Overview


Interferon and interleukin-2 (IL-2) are types of biologic therapy used to treat melanoma. Interferon affects the division of cancer cells and can slow tumor growth. IL-2 boosts the growth and activity of many immune cells, especially lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). Lymphocytes can attack and kill cancer cells.

Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) therapy is a type of biologic therapy used with other treatments for melanoma. TNF is a protein made by white blood cells in response to an antigen or infection. Tumor necrosis factor can be made in the laboratory and used as a treatment to kill cancer cells.

Ipilimumab is a type of biologic therapy used to treat melanoma. It is a monoclonal antibody that increases the immune response against melanoma cells. Other monoclonal antibodies are being studied in the treatment of melanoma.

See Drugs Approved for Melanoma for more information.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to attack cancer cells. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy do. The following types of targeted therapy are being used in the treatment of melanoma:

  • Signal transduction inhibitor therapy: A type of targeted therapy. Signal transduction inhibitors block signals that are passed from one molecule to another inside a cell. Blocking these signals may kill cancer cells. Vemurafenib and dabrafenib are signal transduction inhibitors used to treat some patients with advanced melanoma or tumors that cannot be removed by surgery. These drugs block the activity of proteins made by mutated BRAF genes.
  • Oncolytic virus therapy: A type of targeted therapy that is being studied in the treatment of melanoma. Oncolytic virus therapy uses a virus that infects and breaks down cancer cells but not normal cells. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be given after oncolytic virus therapy to kill more cancer cells.
  • Angiogenesis inhibitors: A type of targeted therapy that is being studied in the treatment of melanoma. Angiogenesis inhibitors block the growth of new blood vessels. In cancer treatment, they may be given to prevent the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow.
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