Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer or ‘cytotoxic’ drugs to destroy cancer cells. They work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. As they circulate in the blood, they can reach cancer cells wherever they are in your body.

Chemotherapy for melanoma

You may have chemotherapy:

  • As a treatment for local recurrence (melanoma that has come back near to where it started)
  • As a treatment for advanced melanoma that has spread to another part of the body
  • Or you may have chemotherapy as an adjuvant treatment – to try to stop your melanoma coming back if cancer cells were found in your lymph nodes. Treating melanoma with chemotherapy is still experimental. It hasn’t yet been proved that it helps prevent melanoma from coming back, or but it can help treat advanced melanoma.

You can have one chemotherapy drug or a combination of several drugs. You have your injections or tablets for a few days. Then you have 3 or 4 weeks without any drugs. Then another few days of drugs. This cycle is usually repeated 6 or more times to make up a complete course of chemotherapy.

Side effects

Chemotherapy does have side effects. Which ones you get depend on:

  • Which drugs you are given
  • How much of each drug you are given
  • How you individually react

Not everyone gets every side effect with every drug. Some people react more than others, and different drugs have different side effects. So we can’t tell you exactly what will happen to you. But here is a list of some common side effects:

  • A drop in the number of blood cells
  • Feeling sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sore mouth and mouth ulcers
  • Feeling tired and run down

Ask your doctor or nurse which of these side effects are most common with the chemotherapy drugs you will be having.

If you are having several drugs within your course of chemotherapy, you are almost certain to get some side effects. But there is quite a bit that can be done to help. And most side effects only last for the few days that you are actually having the drugs. Tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects you have as soon as they develop so that they can help you as much as possible.

Chemotherapy courses can seem to go on forever, particularly if you are getting very tired towards the end of your course. But they do finish. The side effects will go once your treatment has ended. But it will take you a while to get your energy back.