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Radiation Therapy for Melanoma

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Radiation is usually given to relieve symptoms caused by melanoma that has spread to the bone or brain. It generally does not cure melanoma. In certain circumstances, radiation therapy may be offered in a more curative approach. When radiation therapy is given after surgery, it may help reduce the chances of the cancer coming back and/or spreading to the nearby lymph nodes. Radiation also may be used when melanoma has come back after surgery. In any case, the successful treatment of melanoma is a multi-modality approach and surgeons, dermatologists, medical and radiation oncologists should be involved in your care and should work together from the beginning to plan your best course of treatment.

External Radiation Therapy

In external beam radiation therapy, radiation is produced by a machine called a linear accelerator. Short bursts of x-rays are fired from the machine at your cancer. The x-rays come out in a square-shaped manner, and the radiation oncologist designs special blocks to shape the radiation beam so that it treats the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible.

Radiation of a Tumor
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Like chemotherapy, the side effects from radiation result from injury to the normal tissues. There are many new ways that the radiation oncologist can customize your treatment to try to kill as much cancer while sparing as much normal tissue as possible. The radiation oncologist will determine how many treatments you will receive.

You may experience side effects common to radiation therapy, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin changes, like redness or irritation
  • Nausea and vomiting

When to Contact Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you:

  • Develop side effects from the treatment
  • Develop new or unusual symptoms

Revision Information

  • Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated April 3, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2013.

  • Melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003120-pdf.pdf . Updated January 17, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2013.

  • Mendenhall WM, Amdur RJ, Grobmyer SR, et al. Adjuvant radiotherapy for cutaneous melanoma. Cancer . 2008 Mar 15;112(6):1189-96.

  • Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/melanoma/Patient/page4 . Updated March 29, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2013.