Chemotherapy for Melanoma

Chemotherapy (chemo) uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs are passed through the blood and travel through the body. Chemo is not very useful in treating later stages of melanoma. But, it may slow the growth of the cancer and help ease symptoms.

It may be given alone or along with surgery, other medicines, or radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy Drugs and Delivery

There are many kinds of drugs that can be used. Chemo is most often given through an IV. It may be combined with other chemo drugs. The care team will help to find the best combination for each person. The most common drugs are:

  • Dacarbazine
  • Temozolomide
  • Paclitaxel
  • Carboplatin
  • Cisplatin
  • Vinblastine

In some people, high-dose chemo is be given directly into the limb with the tumor. The limb is tied off from the body's blood supply with a tourniquet. Drugs circulate between the limb and a warming machine. This limits the amount of harm to healthy tissues by the chemo drugs.

Side Effects and Management

Chemo can also affect fast growing healthy cells, causing a range of health problems. The most common are:

  • Feeling tired due to anemia
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Infections happen more often or last longer than normal
  • Numbness, pain, or burning sensation in the hands and feet—peripheral neuropathy
  • Problems thinking clearly
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or loss of hunger

There are many ways to manage these problems. Medicines and lifestyle changes are the most common. Talk to your care team as soon as these appear so they can be better controlled.


Chemotherapy for melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Updated May 20, 2016. Accessed May 7, 2019.
Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated March 26, 2019. Accessed May 7, 2019.
Melanoma. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated March 2019. Accessed May 7, 2019.
Melanoma: Diagnosis and treatment. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: Accessed May 7, 2019.
Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated May 1, 2019. Accessed May 7, 2019.
Last reviewed March 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 5/7/2019

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