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:
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)
- Side effects of radiation therapy
- Video: What is 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 treatment that delivers 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 four treatment sessions over a couple of weeks.
The side effects 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 include tiredness, and skin in the treatment area becoming red and sore during or immediately after radiation therapy. 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?
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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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