Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that utilizes cancer cell-killing drugs. When systemic melanoma chemotherapy treatment is used, the cancer cell-killing drugs are either administered by mouth or injected into a vein. Once these drugs have been administered, they make their way through the blood stream all throughout the body and attack any cancer cells present in the body that have spread further than the skin to the body’s organs and lymph nodes.
Melanoma chemotherapy treatment drugs help to fight melanoma by attacking and killing the cells that are rapidly dividing, in turn eliminating cancer cells. Since other cells in the body also rapidly divide, such as those in the intestinal lining, mouth, lining and bone marrow, and hair follicles, they too will be affected by melanoma chemotherapy treatments. This can lead to undesirable side effects.
The side effects a patient experiences when undergoing melanoma chemotherapy treatment will depend on how long the drugs are taken, the dose, and the type of drug being administered. The most commonly experienced side effects of melanoma chemotherapy treatment includes fatigue (because of a reduction in red blood cells), hair loss, bleeding and bruising easily (due to a reduction in blood platelets), mouth sores, decreased infection resistance (due to a reduction in white blood cells), nausea and vomiting, and loss of appetite. For most patients, these side effects will disappear once they have finished their melanoma chemotherapy treatment.
There are several different systemic chemotherapies that can be used to treat patients with advanced forms of melanoma. However, chemotherapy isn’t the most effective cancer treatment for melanoma. It can be beneficial in extending a patient’s survival and helping to eliminate some of the symptoms they experience because of melanoma.
A variety of drugs can be used as melanoma chemotherapy treatments. The first is the Dartmouth Regimen. This combination consists of three different chemotherapy drugs as well as a hormonal therapy drug called tamoxifen. The three chemotherapy drugs often include dacarbazine, cisplatin, and carmustine. The CVD regimen consists of dacarbazine, vinblastine, and cisplatin. Temozolomide is a chemotherapy drug that can be a beneficial melanoma chemotherapy treatment by itself, however studies have shown that this drug can often be more effective when it is administered along with interferon. Paclitaxel can be a beneficial melanoma chemotherapy treatment when used alone, but it may be more beneficial when combined with other chemotherapy drugs such as carboplatin or cisplatin.
It isn’t completely clear if combining chemotherapy drugs is more beneficial than using them alone to combat melanoma. However, studies have shown that combining melanoma chemotherapy treatments with immunotherapy drugs, such as interleukin-2 or interferon-alpha, may be more effective in combating cancer than just one chemotherapy drug. However, it is not known if combining drugs will extend a patient’s life. When combining chemotherapy drugs with immunotherapy drugs, it is called chemoimmunotherapy or biochemotherapy.
Advanced melanomas are sometimes treated with a type of chemotherapy called isolated limb perfusion. This type of melanoma chemotherapy treatment most often uses a chemotherapy drug called melphalan. This surgical procedure, temporarily separates an affected limb’s blood flow so that high doses of chemotherapy can be delivered to its artery.