Immunotherapy treatment

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Immunotherapy treatment

Immunotherapies are drug treatments that aim to enhance your own bodys immune system so that it can recognise and destroy cancer cells more effectively.  Dr Elaine Vickers, a science communicator has created this video to explain immunotherapy treatments and how they work.

 Immunotherapy treatment can be used to treat melanomas:

  1. That cannot be removed by surgery
  2. That have spread to other parts of the body.  Pembrolizumab or nivolumab or the combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab may be given for as long as they are working and you are not troubled by side effects.  However, if you have responded well to treatment after 2 years of treatment, you may be offered to discontinue your treatment.  In such cases, treatment may be restarted at a future timepoint.  Your medical team will be able to discuss the pros and cons of combination therapy with you.
  3. After surgery if the melanoma has only spread to the nearby area or lymph nodes and the surgeon was able to remove all of the melanoma. This treatment is called adjuvant treatment and it is given to help reduce the risk of the melanoma coming back. Pembrolizumab or nivolumab is given for up to a year.  

Depending on the stage of melanoma and any previous treatment received, two immunotherapy treatments can be given in combination; or one treatment can be given alone.


The UK approved immunotherapy treatments for melanoma are:

  • nivolumab and ipilimumab
  • pembrolizumab
  • nivolumab
  • nivolumab and relatlimab
  • ipilimumab

These treatments are given as an intravenous drip infusion (i.e into a vein the arm) usually in hospital or a clinic, typically every 2 to 6 weeks.

Possible side effects

All cancer therapies are associated with some side effects that may impact on daily life to a lesser or greater extent.  As immunotherapy affects the immune system, this may cause inflammation in different parts of the body.  This can happen during treatment or some months after treatment has finished.  Generally, many side effects can be dealt with if treated promptly and it is therefore important to let your medical team know if you experience anything unusual for you.  In some people, these side effects could be life-long and can occasionally be life-threatening.  

Further information on possible side effects

If you have any worries or concerns, please contact your medical team or call our:

Melanoma Helpline on 0808 801 0777

Other types of immunotherapy treatment

T-VEC is another type of immunotherapy treatment that is injected directly into the melanomas on the surface of the skin and it is only suitable for some people.  For more information on T-VEC see here.

There may be clinical trials looking at new treatments to treat your type of melanoma. 

For more information on clinical trials see the Melanoma TrialFinder.

Further resources

The Immunobuddies podcast hosted and co-founded by Dr Ricky Fraser (Consultant Oncologist at Velindre Cancer Centre) & Dr Anna Olsson Brown (Consultant in Medical Oncology and Immunotherapy Service Lead, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, Liverpool)  is a free podcast aimed at any anyone with an interest in immunotherapy and its impact in treating cancer. Recently, for the very first time a patient has been invited to take part in the podcast, and throughout six episodes, Imogen Llewellyn, a stage-four melanoma patient, shares her concerns and poses questions to Ricky and Anna. In preparation for the podcasts, questions were collated from patients and clinical teams.

The topics discussed in these six episodes range from what is immunotherapy and its common side-effects, to adjuvant treatment and role of diet and exercise. You can access these episodes here:

Number 1: Immunotherapy with Imogen Llewellyn. Q1-5- Fundamentals of Immunotherapy


Number 2: Immunotherapy with Imogen Llewellyn. Q6-14 During immunotherapy – Side effects explained – Can I talk to someone for advice?


Number 3: Immunotherapy with Imogen Llewellyn. Q15-18  Immunotherapy – My family, friends and career are important to me, can you advise?


Number 4: Immunotherapy with Imogen Llewellyn. Q19-24 -During and after Immunotherapy – I have so many questions about my treatment journey, potential side effects and after-care?


Number 5: Immunotherapy with Imogen Llewellyn.Q25-34 -How will immunotherapy impact me and my family?


Number 6: Immunotherapy with Imogen Llewellyn. Q35-44 -Immunotherapy- what did they say? Adjuvant?!? Medical jargon demystified!

Questions you may have

  • What are my treatment options?
  • How frequently will I have treatment?
  • What are the potential side-effects and what should I do if I experience anything unusual?
  • What clinical trials are potential options for me?
  • When will I know if the immunotherapy treatment has been successful?
  • Can I take a break from treatment and go on holiday?