Targeted therapy

Patient Guide

Targeted Therapy

If your melanoma is found to have a faulty BRAF gene or a BRAF mutation when it is sent for genetic testing, then targeted therapy is a potential treatment option for you. Approximately 40 to 50% of patients are found to have this mutation. 

If your melanoma does have the faulty gene, then it may be described as BRAF positive. If your melanoma doesnt have a faulty gene, then your melanoma may be described as BRAF negative. This mutation is not something that is inherited and so cannot be passed to your children.  

This video explains BRAF, targeted treatments and how they work: 

Understanding targeted therapies  

Dr Elaine Vickers, Cancer Science Communicator, explains BRAF and MEK targeted therapies.

BRAF inhibitor treatments have not been shown to work unless you have the faulty BRAF gene or mutation.  A BRAF inhibitor (dabrafenib/vemurafenib/encorafenib) is given in combination with a MEK inhibitor (trametinib/cobimetinib/binimetinib). They are tablets and capsules which are taken daily.

Targeted treatment can be used to treat melanomas:

  1. That cannot be removed by surgery
  2. That have spread to other parts of the bodyDabrafenib and trametinib or encorafenib and binimetinib are treatment options and treatment is continued until the treatment doesn’t work or unacceptable side effects occur.
  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.                Dabrafenib and trametinib are given for up to a year.  For more information on adjuvant treatment see here

Possible side effects

All cancer drug therapies are associated with some side effects that may impact on daily life to a lesser or greater extent.  Early treatment of side effects can help manage them better.

The most common side effects of dabrafenib and trametinib are high temperature and chills, loss of appetite, headaches and dizziness, cough, feeling or being sick, diarrhoea or constipation, skin problems, hair thinning, high blood pressure, bleeding problems, soreness and/or redness on the palms and soles of the feet, arm, leg or joint pain and tiredness.  More information on potential side effects can be found here:

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/cancer-drugs/drugs/dabrafenib-trametinib

The most common side effects of encorafenib and binimetinib are high temperature and chills, breathlessness, numbness or tingling in fingers and toes, headaches and dizziness, eye problems, bleeding problems, high blood pressure, tummy pain, diarrhoea or constipation, feeling or being sick, skin problems, hair thinning, arm, leg or join pain and tiredness.  More information on potential side effects can be found here:

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/cancer-drugs/drugs/encorafenib-binimetinib

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

Melanoma Helpline on 0808 801 0777

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

  • Does my melanoma have the faulty BRAF gene or BRAF positive?
  • 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 targeted therapy treatment has been successful?