Immunotherapy treatment

Patient Guide

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.  

The UK approved immunotherapy treatments for melanoma are:

  • pembrolizumab
  • nivolumab
  • 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.  

We have created detailed information on immunotherapy side effects, here.

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.

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?