Immunotherapy for advanced melanoma
Immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. They have led to great progress in melanoma treatment. Checkpoint inhibitors used for advanced melanoma include ipilimumab, nivolumab and pembrolizumab.
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You will usually have checkpoint immunotherapy as an outpatient, which means you visit the treatment centre for the day. In most cases, the drugs are given into a vein (intravenously). You may have treatment every 2–4 weeks in a repeating cycle for up to two years, but this depends on how the melanoma responds to the drugs and any side effects you have.
Checkpoint inhibitors do not work for everyone with advanced melanoma, but some people have had very encouraging results. Sometimes more than one drug is used, and different combinations work for different people. Treatments in this area are changing rapidly. Talk to your doctor about whether immunotherapy is an option for you.
Every three weeks, I’d go to the treatment centre for an immunotherapy infusion. I had very few side effects, I was really lucky. I did get a tiny bit of a rash and I got pretty tired after each infusion, but I’d just go and have a snooze.Ian
The side effects of immunotherapy drugs will vary depending on which drugs you are given, and can be unpredictable. Immunotherapy can cause inflammation in any of the organs in the body, which can lead to side effects such as tiredness, joint pain, diarrhoea, and an itchy rash or other skin problems. The inflammation can lead to more serious side effects in some people, but this will be monitored closely and managed quickly.
You may have side effects within days of starting immunotherapy, but more often they occur many weeks or months later. It is important to discuss any side effects with your treatment team as soon as they appear so they can be managed appropriately. When side effects are treated early, they are likely to be less severe and last for a shorter time.
For more on this, see our general section on Immunotherapy.
It is important to let your doctor know immediately of any side effects from immunotherapy or targeted therapy treatment. If left untreated, some side effects can become serious.
Video: What is immunotherapy?
Listen to our podcasts on New Cancer Treatments – Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy and Making Treatment Decisions
A/Prof Robyn Saw, Surgical Oncologist, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Craig Brewer, Consumer; Prof Bryan Burmeister, Radiation Oncologist, GenesisCare Fraser Coast and Hervey Bay Hospital, QLD; Tamara Dawson, Consumer, Melanoma & Skin Cancer Advocacy Network; Prof Georgina Long, Co-Medical Director, Melanoma Institute Australia, and Chair, Melanoma Medical Oncology and Translational Research, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney and Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Alexander Menzies, Medical Oncologist, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney, Royal North Shore and Mater Hospitals, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Paige Preston, Chair, Cancer Council’s National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia; Prof H Peter Soyer, Chair in Dermatology and Director, Dermatology Research Centre, The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, and Director, Dermatology Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Julie Teraci, Clinical Nurse Consultant and Coordinator, WA Kirkbride Melanoma Advisory Service, WA.
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