Immunotherapies are drug treatments that aim to enhance your own body’s immune system so that it an recognise and destroy cancer cells more effectively. By enhancing the immune system, it is common for healthy parts of the body to be affected too. There are now a number of immunotherapy treatments available that may be offered to you. They are given via an intravenous drip, usually in hospital. A single immunotherapy treatment or a combination of two different immunotherapy treatments may be administered
>See our video explaining immunotherapy treatment
Your melanoma should be tested to see if it carries a faulty BRAF gene. This is a mistake (mutation) that develops in the BRAF gene in around half of melanomas. It is NOT a genetic mutation that you can pass down to your children. If your melanoma is ‘BRAF mutant’ it produces an over-active BRAF protein which drives the growth of the melanoma. It is important to know whether your melanoma has the BRAF mutation as this may give you the option of treatment with BRAF-targeted therapy.
>View our video for further information on BRAF mutation and targeted therapies
Your medical team may also test your melanoma for other genetic mutations, for instance some melanomas have mistakes in the NRAS or c-KIT gene. Therapies to reverse the effects of these gene mutations can help. Although there is much less evidence that targeting these mutations can be helpful, this information may increase the treatment options your medical team can discuss with you – for instance in opening up opportunities to take part in clinical trials.
Other options for treatment your medical team may discuss with you
Although immunotherapy and BRAF-targeted therapy are the most common treatments used for Stage 4 melanoma, your medical team may consider other treatments, depending on your situation. These may happen alongside or instead of immunotherapy or BRAF-targeted therapy.
Surgery: although your medical team might not feel that surgery will cure your melanoma, they are still likely to consider whether surgery might help control your disease. Sometimes surgery can be helpful alongside systemic (medical) treatments – for instance if most of your melanoma is responding to treatment but one area is getting bigger. It is always important that you understand what surgery can or cannot achieve in your own particular situation, and what the risks of any surgery might be – your medical team will be able to discuss this with you.
>Specialised radiotherapy techniques
As a Stage 4 melanoma patient whose melanoma cannot be removed with surgery you could be considered for other treatments that include electrochemotherapy, isolated limb perfusion/infusion, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILS) therapy and T-VEC.
>See our video on T-VEC
>Learn more about other treatments when your melanoma cannot be removed with surgery