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Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (such as x-rays) or particles to kill cancer cells.
Radiation therapy is not needed for most people with melanoma on the skin, although it might be useful in certain situations:
The type of radiation most often used to treat melanoma, known as external beam radiation therapy, focuses radiation from a source outside of the body on the cancer.
The treatment schedule can vary based on the goal of treatment and where the melanoma is. Before treatments start, your radiation team will take careful measurements to find the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. This planning session is called simulation.
Treatment is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is stronger. The procedure itself is painless. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, although the setup time – getting you into place for treatment – usually takes longer.
SRS is a type of radiation therapy that can sometimes be used for tumors that have spread to the brain. (Despite the name, there is no actual surgery.) High doses of radiation are aimed precisely at the tumor(s) in one or more treatment sessions. There are 2 main ways to give SRS:
These treatments can be repeated if needed.
This approach is similar to SRS (using a linear accelerator), but it can be used to treat tumors in other parts of the body.
Side effects of radiation are usually limited to the area getting radiation. Common side effects can include:
Often these go away after treatment.
Radiation therapy to the brain can sometimes cause memory loss, headaches, trouble thinking, or reduced sexual desire. Usually these symptoms are minor compared with those caused by a tumor in the brain, but they might still affect your quality of life.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Hong AM. Radiation therapy in the management of melanoma. UpToDate. 2019. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/radiation-therapy-in-the-management-of-melanoma on June 14, 2019.
Mitchell TC, Karakousis G, Schuchter L. Chapter 66: Melanoma. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Cutaneous Melanoma. Version 2.2019. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/cutaneous_melanoma.pdfon June 11, 2019.
Ribas A, Read P, Slingluff CL. Chapter 92: Cutaneous Melanoma. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019.
Last Revised: August 14, 2019