Targeted therapy delivers drugs that work throughout the body to fight melanoma. These drugs slow the growth of melanoma cells or destroy them.
Targeted therapy is made possible through an understanding of specific genetic mutations in the tumor cells themselves that can be “targeted” for cell death, without affecting most normal tissues.
Targeted drugs interfere with specific parts of cancerous melanoma cells. For the treatment to work in melanoma, the tumor has to have the BRAF mutation. A test to determine whether your melanoma carries this mutation would be done if you have disease that has spread to your lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
Types of targeted therapy
New types of targeted therapy are under development. Types that are available for melanoma so far include MAP kinase inhibitors:
- BRAF inhibitors
- MEK inhibitors (almost always given in combination with BRAF inhibitors)
Depending on the type and stage of melanoma you have, you may need one or more types of drug therapy; combinations of targeted therapy and immunotherapy agents are being studied for melanoma.
Potential Side Effects with Targeted Therapy
Like most drug treatment, targeted therapy may have side effects. The side effects vary according to which drugs are used and their dose. Individuals also vary, so even people getting the same targeted therapy can have different side effects.
Some common side effects of drug therapy include gastrointestinal issues (diarrhea, nausea), fever, general aches and pains, and skin side effects. We may also check for one other side effects, including potential toxicity to heart cells, by monitoring your heart using echocardiograms (heart ultrasound).
The combination of BRAF and MEK inhibitors is often used in patients with metastatic melanoma, whose tumors have the BRAF mutation. Combination therapy is associated with fewer side effects and is more effective than using a BRAF or MEK inhibitor alone.
Many side effects go away when treatment is finished. Some side effects linger after treatment or start months or even years laer, though this is not common on MAP kinase inhibitors.
Tell us if you experience problems that may be side effects of treatment. We can help you manage any side effects by prescribing other medicines or recommending things you can do.