Radiation therapy for advanced melanoma
Also known as radiotherapy, radiation therapy is the use of targeted radiation, such as x-ray beams, to kill or damage cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be offered on its own or with other treatments. In rare cases, it is used after surgery to prevent melanoma coming back. It can also help relieve pain and other symptoms caused by melanoma that has spread to the brain or bone (palliative treatment).
Learn more about:
- Having radiation therapy
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)
- Side effects of radiation therapy
- Video: What is radiation therapy?
Having radiation therapy
Before starting treatment, you will have a CT or MRI scan at a planning appointment. The technician may make some small permanent or temporary marks on your skin so that the same area is targeted during each treatment session.
Treatment sessions are usually given daily over 1–4 weeks. The number of sessions will depend on the size and location of the tumour, and your general health. For the treatment, you will lie on a table under a machine that aims radiation at the affected part of your body. Each session takes about 20–30 minutes and is painless.
Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)
In some cases, you may be offered a specialised type of radiation therapy that delivers highly precise, tightly-focused beams of high-dose radiation onto the tumour from many different angles. This is called stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) when used on the brain, and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) when used on other parts of the body.
SBRT often involves 3–5 treatment sessions over 1–2 weeks.
The side effects that you experience will depend on the part of the body that receives radiation therapy and how long you have treatment. Many people will have temporary side effects, which may build up over time.
Common side effects during or immediately after radiation therapy include tiredness, and the skin in the treatment area becoming red and sore. Ask your treatment team for advice about dealing with any side effects.
For more on this, see our general section on Radiation therapy.
Video: What is radiation therapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof H Peter Soyer, Chair in Dermatology and Director, Dermatology Research Centre, The University of Queensland, Diamantina Institute, and Consultant, Dermatology Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; A/Prof Matteo Carlino, Medical Oncologist, Blacktown and Westmead Hospitals, Melanoma Institute Australia and The University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Anne Cust, Deputy Director, The Daffodil Centre, The University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW, Chair, National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council and faculty member, Melanoma Institute Australia; Prof Diona Damian, Dermatologist, Head of Department, Dermatology, The University of Sydney at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW, and Melanoma Institute Australia; A/Prof Paul Fishburn, General Practitioner – Skin Cancer, Norwest Skin Cancer Clinic, NSW and The University of Queensland; Claire Kelly, National Support Manager, and Emma Zurawel, Telehealth Nurse, Melanoma Patients Australia; Prof John Kelly, Consultant Dermatologist, Victorian Melanoma Service, The Alfred Melbourne and Monash University, VIC; Liz King, Manager, Skin Cancer Prevention Unit, Cancer Council NSW; Lee-Ann Lovegrove, Consumer; Lynda McKinley, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Angelica Miller, Melanoma Community Support Nurse, Melanoma Institute Australia incorporating melanomaWA, and Cancer Wellness Centre, WA; Dr Amelia Smit, Research Fellow, Melanoma and Skin Cancer, The Daffodil Centre, The University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW; Prof Andrew Spillane, Professor of Surgical Oncology, The University of Sydney, The Mater and Royal North Shore Hospitals, NSW, and Melanoma Institute Australia; Kylie Tilley, Consumer; A/Prof Tim Wang, Radiation Oncologist, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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