Skin cancer that becomes malignant (cancerous) is called melanoma. It begins in melanocytes, which are cells that produce melanin, the substance that colors the skin, hair and eyes. Although melanoma is primarily a cancer of the skin, it can affect other parts of the body, including the eyes, mouth, genitals and anal area. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer because it’s likely to spread to other parts of the body if it is not caught early.

The standard therapies for melanoma include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. Surgery remains the main treatment for Stages I through III, and as a palliative (support) treatment to relieve symptoms of advanced disease. Of all the cancers immunotherapies have been tested on, melanoma is one of the most responsive cancers to such treatment, which is bringing new hope to people with the disease. For many people with melanoma, immunotherapy is successful in terms of shrinking tumors, reducing the risk of the cancer coming back, and leading to longer life.

Multiple immunotherapies have been approved by the FDA for melanoma, including several new immunotherapy drugs for advanced melanoma. These new therapies have resulted in significant advancements in the evolution of immunotherapy for melanoma and the treatment of melanoma in general.

The first immunotherapy drug for melanoma was a cytokine that was approved for treatment after surgery for patients at high risk of the cancer recurring. Today, immunotherapy also is used to treat some metastatic melanomas, either alone or in combination with other treatments. Additional immunotherapies have been approved over the years, making melanoma one of the few cancer types for which a variety of immunotherapies have been approved including cytokines, monoclonal antibodies, oncolytic virus therapy and checkpoint inhibitors.

Multiple clinical trials are taking place to investigate new immunotherapies and combinations of currently approved immunotherapies. Because melanoma has been so responsive to new immunotherapies, researchers are investigating, through clinical trials, whether some immunotherapies approved for advanced or metastatic melanomas could be used for earlier stage melanomas.

Currently, immunotherapy is a significant focus in cancer research and drug development, especially with melanoma. As newer cancer treatments are discovered, they first become available in clinical trials for those who are eligible. Talk to your doctor to see whether a clinical trial is right for you and to discuss all of the treatment options available for your type and stage of melanoma.


FDA-Approved Immunotherapies for Melanoma
As of 10/26/2016
high-dose interleukin-2 (IL-2)
interferon alfa-2b (Intron A)
interleukin-2 (Proleukin)
ipilimumab (Yervoy)
nivolumab (Opdivo)
peginterferon alfa-2b (Sylatron)
pegylated interferon alfa-2b (PEG-Intron)
pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
talimogene laherparepvec (Imlygic)

Additional Resources


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