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Melanoma Treatment

Melanoma varies considerably in type, stage, genetic mutations, and location. Treatment selection depends on all these factors. The main treatment options are summarized here.

How is melanoma treated?


The first choice of treatment for local melanoma is wide excision.1,2 Margin width depends on the thickness of the tumor.

Lymph node dissection

If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, your doctor may recommend additional surgery. Removal of the lymph nodes is called lymph node dissection.

Topical medication

Topical imiquimod may be used to treat lentigo maligna melanoma if surgery is not possible. It may also be used as an adjuvant treatment. 2

Systemic medications

Systemic medications may be used for primary or adjuvant treatment if the cancer has spread. Several different types of medication are available. Immunotherapy turns your immune system against the cancer. Targeted therapy aims at the mutations that lead to uncontrolled cell growth. Chemotherapy is often less effective than newer medications, but remains an option in some circumstances.

Intralesional medication

Talimogene laherparepvec is a medication injected into the tumor. It is an oncolytic virus that makes copies of itself in cancer cells only.3 It is used to treat melanoma in the skin and lymph nodes. Another intralesional therapy, the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine, is used less often.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is sometimes used to treat the lymph node region after the lymph nodes are removed. Radiation therapy kills cancer cells that remain. In some circumstances, radiation therapy is a primary treatment for melanoma. It is also used to relieve symptoms of cancer metastasis (spread).

Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last reviewed: December 2019.
  1. American Cancer Society. Melanoma skin cancer. Accessed January 5, 2017 at:
  2. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. Melanoma. Version 1.2017. Published November 10, 2016.
  3. Chiocca EA, Rabkin SD. Oncolytic viruses and their application to cancer immunotherapy. Cancer Immunol Res. 2014;2:295-300.