Radiation therapy for advanced melanoma
Also known as radiotherapy, radiation therapy for advanced melanoma is the use of targeted radiation to kill or damage cancer cells so they cannot grow, multiply and spread. Radiation therapy may be offered on its own or in combination with other treatments, and may be recommended:
- when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
- after surgery to prevent the melanoma coming back
- as palliative treatment to improve quality of life by relieving pain and other symptoms.
Learn more about:
- Planning radiation therapy
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)
- Side effects of radiation therapy
- Video: What is radiation therapy?
Before starting treatment, you will have a planning appointment where a CT 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 having an x-ray.
This is a way of delivering highly focused radiation therapy to the tumour, while the surrounding tissue receives a low dose. It is delivered from multiple beams that meet at the tumour. 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 receive treatment. Many people will develop temporary side effects, such as skin reactions and tiredness, during treatment. Skin in the treatment area may become red and sore during or immediately after radiation therapy, and these side effects may build up over time. Ask your treatment team for advice about dealing with any side effects.
Video: What is radiation therapy?
A/Prof Victoria Atkinson, Senior Staff Specialist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Visiting Medical Oncologist, Greenslopes Private Hospital, and The University of Queensland Clinical School of Medicine, QLD; Adjunct Prof John Kelly AM, Consultant Dermatologist, Victorian Melanoma Service, and Department of Medicine at Alfred Health, Monash University, VIC; Dr Alex Chamberlain, Dermatologist, Glenferrie Dermatology, Victorian Melanoma Service and Monash Univeristy, VIC; Alison Button-Sloan, Melanoma Patients Australia; Peter Cagney, Consumer; Prof Brendon J Coventry, Associate Professor of Surgery, The University of Adelaide, Surgical Oncologist, Royal Adelaide Hospital, and Research Director, Australian Melanoma Research Foundation, SA; Dr David Gyorki, Consultant Surgical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Liz King, Skin Cancer Prevention Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Shannon Jones, SunSmart Health Professionals Coordinator, Cancer Council Victoria; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Prof Richard Scolyer, Senior Staff Specialist, Tissue Pathology and Diagnostic Oncology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Co-Medical Director, Melanoma Institute Australia and Clinical Professor, The University of Sydney, NSW; Heather Walker, Chair, Cancer Council National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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