Radiation Therapy for Melanoma

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Melanoma specialist Christopher Barker hugging a patient

Christopher Barker is one of the country’s leading experts on the use of radiation therapy to treat melanoma.

Radiation therapy is a treatment for melanoma that involves directing a beam of high-energy particles at a tumor. When the beam reaches the tumor, it destroys the cancer cells by damaging their DNA.

Radiation therapy can be used in one of several ways to treat melanoma. It may be recommended after melanoma surgery to prevent the cancer from coming back. Some people may receive radiation in combination with immunotherapy or other drug therapies to achieve a more lasting response to treatment. Radiation can also help ease symptoms caused by tumors.

Memorial Sloan Kettering is one of the few cancer centers with experts who specialize in radiation therapy for melanoma. We take a personalized approach with every person we care for. We tailor the treatment plan to each individual. Our goal is to eliminate the melanoma with radiation while minimizing the side effects of treatment.

Radiation Therapy after Melanoma Surgery

Sometimes we recommend radiation therapy in the area where surgery was performed to remove melanoma. For some people, this approach may reduce the chance that the melanoma will come back in that specific area.

One method we use is called intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). It was developed by MSK experts. IMRT allows us to deliver more-precise doses of radiation to the affected area while reducing the risk that healthy tissue is injured.

In addition, MSK is currently the leading center in North America participating in an international research study to determine if radiation after surgery helps prevent melanoma in the head and neck area from coming back.

Radiation for Metastatic Melanoma

Radiation can also help people with melanoma that has spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body. For example, when melanoma spreads to the brain, one option may be stereotactic radiosurgery. This procedure allows doctors to deliver a single high dose of radiation directly to a tumor. It can eliminate the tumor with few side effects.

IMRT can be combined with image-guidance technology. This approach is called IG-IMRT. It allows for a precise delivery that’s more effective than other forms of radiation therapy at controlling melanoma. Some metastatic tumors can be eliminated when high doses of radiation are used with stereotactic techniques, also known as SBRT.