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Potential side effects of targeted therapy for melanoma

Side effects can occur with any type of treatment for melanoma, but not everyone has them or experiences them in the same way. Side effects of targeted therapy will depend mainly on:

  • the dose
  • the person’s overall health

Side effects can happen any time during, immediately after, or a few days or weeks after treatment. Most side effects go away when treatment is over. However, some side effects may persist after treatment is over. Late side effects can occur months or years after treatment.

It is important to report side effects to the healthcare team. Doctors may also grade (measure) how severe certain side effects are.

The following are the most common side effects that people tend to experience with targeted therapy for melanoma. Some people may experience all, some or none of these side effects. Others may experience different side effects.

Nausea and vomiting

Targeted therapy may cause nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting can occur within the first few hours after targeted therapy  drugs are given and usually last about 24 hours. However, delayed nausea and vomiting may continue for a few days after treatment. Some people may have anticipatory nausea after having a few treatments, where they feel nauseated even before treatment is given because they expect to be sick.

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Hair loss

Hair loss (alopecia) is a side effect of some targeted therapies. The extent and duration of hair loss is unpredictable. It depends on the type and dose of drugs used, as well as personal factors. Hair loss can occur on all parts of the body, including the face and scalp. Hair loss can begin within a few days or 2–3 weeks after treatment starts. Hair usually grows back once treatments are over.

Hair should not be permed, straightened, dyed or coloured during treatment. These products contain chemicals that can damage hair. It is best to wait until new hair growth becomes established and hair returns to its original state. This may take 6 months or more after treatment. Talk to the healthcare team about when you can use these products again.

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Skin rash

Many of the targeted therapy drugs can cause a skin rash, itching or other skin changes. These skin problems usually develop slowly over days to weeks. Medications may be given to relieve the skin irritation if needed.

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Sensitivity to sunlight

The targeted therapy drug used to treat melanoma can make the skin very sensitive to sunlight and cause the skin to burn more easily. Try to avoid sunlight while taking this drug. When outdoors, protect the skin from the sun by covering up and using sunscreen.

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Joint pain

Muscle and joint aches or pain can be a common side effect of targeted therapy drugs. Joint pain can often occur immediately following treatment, but lessens with time.

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Note: Other side effects may occur. For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.


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