Radiation therapy for advanced melanoma

Radiation therapy uses x-rays to damage or kill cancer cells so they cannot multiply. Radiation therapy for melanoma might be used:

  • when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and may not be controlled by surgery without help
  • after surgery to prevent the melanoma coming back
  • in combination with other treatments or, in special circumstances, on its own
  • as palliative treatment when the melanoma has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones or brain, to control cancer growth or relieve symptoms.

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Radiation therapy

Before starting treatment, you will have a planning appointment where a CT (computerised tomography) scan is performed. The radiation therapy team will use the images from the scan to plan your treatment. The technician may make some small permanent tattoos or temporary marks on your skin so that the same area is targeted during each treatment session.

During treatment, you will lie on a table under a machine that aims radiation at the affected part of your body. Treatment sessions are usually given daily over one to four weeks.

The number of treatment sessions will depend on the size and location of the tumour, and your general health. Each session takes about 20–30 minutes and is painless – similar to an x-ray.

Side effects

Many people will develop temporary side effects, such as skin reactions and tiredness, during their treatment. Skin in the treatment area may become red and sore during or immediately after treatment, and may build up over time. 

The side effects you experience will depend on the part of the body that receives radiation therapy and how long you receive treatment. Ask your treatment team for advice about dealing with any side effects.

External radiation therapy will not make you radioactive. It is safe for you to be with other people, including children, after your treatment.

Video: What is radiation therapy?

Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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