Skin Cancer Treatments

Save Your Skin Foundation 3 minute read January 29, 2021

There are several treatments for skin cancer. Your melanoma diagnosis, age, location, and general health are some of the factors that should be taken into account when you are considering your options.  Treatments exist in the following broad categories that could be tailored to fit your needs:


These drugs are used to treat many types of cancers by impacting the cancer cells’ ability to grow or multiply. Due to their impact on non-cancer cells, these treatments can have side effects.

The combination of two or more therapies.


Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that uses the human body’s own immune system to fight cancer.  It may be administered to patients intravenously in the Chemotherapy Unit of the hospital, but it is not the same as chemotherapy.

A number of cancer immunotherapies have been developed using different strategies to help boost the body’s immune response. Some immunotherapies help your immune system attack the cancer directly and some help to enhance your body’s immune response to fight the cancer. For example, some cancers trick the immune system by switching off certain pathways so that cancer cells are no longer recognized, allowing them to continue to grow. One type of immunotherapy helps fight cancer by switching on the pathways that the cancer cells have switched off, so that the immune system begins to recognize and attack the cancer. There are several other approaches to cancer immunotherapy as well.

There are different immunotherapies available in Canada to treat skin melanoma. In general, all treatment options can cause serious side effects; in some cases, there is even a risk of fatal side effects. That’s why it is always important to carefully weigh the benefits of any cancer treatment against the possible risks. You should discuss possible side effects with your doctor before starting treatment.


Destruction of tumours using a high-energy radiation beam.


Targeted therapy drugs are designed to specifically target cancer cells. For melanoma, these drugs target the activity of a specific or unique feature of melanoma cancer cells. Genes are the instructions in cells for making new cells and controlling how cells behave. An abnormal change in these instructions – called a gene mutation – can cause cells to grow and divide out of control. Targeted therapy drugs are used as systemic therapy. They are given as a pill that is swallowed.

To determine if targeted therapy is an option for a patient, their tumor must be tested for a marker called BRAF. If the BRAF test shows that the tumor has the BRAF mutation, they are eligible for targeted therapy. But if the tumor does not have the BRAF mutation, they are not eligible for targeted therapy. About half of all melanoma patients have a mutated form of code for the BRAF protein in their tumors. This is called having a BRAF mutation.

For those patients with a BRAF mutation, there is the option to use a combination of oral (by mouth) drugs called dabrafenib and trametinib. When given together, these drugs can help block these proteins and stop the melanoma from growing. These drugs work only for people who have the BRAF mutation.


In certain cases it is possible to operate and physically remove the cancer tumours. This is not always an option.