Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells or stop them from dividing, and is sometimes used to treat melanoma, particularly when there is a high risk that cancer will return and for late stage melanoma. Dr. Alvarado, can you tell us more about chemotherapy?
Definitely, Dr. Mayzik. Chemotherapy can either be systemic or regional. In systemic chemotherapy, the drugs are taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, so they can enter the bloodstream and reach cancer cells throughout the body. Regional chemotherapy drugs, on the other hand, are placed directly in an area affected by cancer and only destroy the cancer cells in that region. The way chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of cancer.
One type of regional chemotherapy used to treat melanoma is called hyperthermic isolated limb perfusion.
In this situation, a warm solution with the chemotherapy drug is put directly into the bloodstream of the part of the body that has the melanoma, for example, an arm or a leg. The flow of blood to and from the limb is stopped for a while to allow most of the drug to reach the growth directly. Most of the chemotherapy remains in that limb.
Chemotherapy can cause significant side effects, most of which are temporary. Common side effects include:
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Hair loss
- Fatigue, and
- An increased risk of infection
Fortunately, the side effects of chemotherapy usually disappear shortly after the therapy is completed.