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Biological therapy for melanoma

Biological therapy is sometimes used to treat melanoma. It is also called biotherapy or biological response modifiers (BRMs).

Biological therapy uses natural or manufactured substances to kill, control or change the behaviour of cancer cells. Different types of biological therapies work in different ways.

Biological therapy may be used:

  • to treat advanced melanoma
  • as an adjuvant therapy for high-risk melanoma, including:
    • melanoma that is 4 mm or thicker
    • melanoma with in-transit metastases
    • positive sentinel lymph nodes
    • regional lymph node involvement
    • regional lymph node recurrence
    • stage IIB, IIC and III melanoma
    • local melanoma recurrence (around original primary site)

Drugs, doses and schedules vary from person to person.

Biological therapy drugs

The most common biological therapy drugs used to treat melanoma are:

  • interferon alfa-2b (Intron A)
    • Interferon is a type of protein that occurs naturally in the body to help fight infection or cancer. Interferon alfa can help boost the immune system to act against cancer cells.
    • Adjuvant high-dose interferon may be given after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence for melanoma that has been completely removed and has a high risk of recurrence.
    • Interferon may also be used to treat advanced melanoma.
  • intralesional Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG)
    • BCG may be used for local or regional metastasis as it is less toxic than systemic therapies. It is injected directly into the lesion.
  • interleukin-2 (Aldesleukin, Proleukin)
    • Interleukin-2 may be used to treat in-transit metastases or local recurrences in an arm or a leg. It is injected directly into individual lesions.
    • Interleukin-2 may also be given by intravenous (IV) infusion to treat advanced or metastatic melanoma.
  • ipilimumab (Yervoy)
    • Ipilimumab is a monoclonal antibody that is used to treat melanoma that cannot be removed with surgery (unresectable) or metastatic melanoma. It is given by IV infusion.

For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about biological therapy.


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