Radiation Therapy for Melanoma

Doctors at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center may use radiation therapy, energy beams that penetrate the skin, to destroy melanoma cells in the body.

Sometimes radiation therapy is delivered after surgery to the site of the melanoma to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Doctors may also use radiation therapy if a tumor has a feature, such as ulceration—a small break in the top layer of skin—that increases the risk of recurrence in its original site. Typically, an ulceration is only visible under a microscope.

Radiation therapy may be delivered after surgery for an uncommon subtype called desmoplastic melanoma to help reduce the risk of recurrence. This form of melanoma tends to spread beyond the visible tumor at a microscopic level.

Doctors may also use radiation to treat areas of the body where lymph nodes—small immune system glands where melanoma may spread—were surgically removed.

Radiation therapy may also be used to relieve symptoms when melanoma has spread to other sites of the body. A highly targeted form of radiation may also be used to treat melanoma that has spread to the brain.

Radiation Treatment Planning

To customize a plan for treating melanoma, our radiation oncologists perform CT scans, which use X-rays to generate computerized three-dimensional, cross-sectional images of the site where the tumor or cancerous lymph nodes were removed. Our doctors may also use frequent CT scans during your treatments to ensure that radiation therapy is delivered precisely to the treatment area, sparing healthy tissue.

External Beam Radiation Therapy

Our doctors use external beam radiation therapy, which uses a machine called a linear accelerator. This machine rotates around you, helping to target the treatment area.

Treatment doses are broken into small, tolerable doses—usually once a day, five days a week, for several weeks. Breaking the radiation into targeted doses, called fractions, enables doctors to deliver enough therapy to treat the tumor and minimize the effects on healthy tissue.

Electron Beam Radiation Therapy

Doctors use electron beam therapy to treat the area of the skin where the melanoma was removed. During this treatment, doctors deliver beams of tiny particles called electrons. Our doctors carefully plan treatment so that it does not penetrate below the skin, where it could damage healthy tissue and organs. This approach may be used after surgery for melanomas containing an ulceration or desmoplastic melanoma.

Three-Dimensional Conformal Radiation Therapy

Doctors may use three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy to treat areas where cancerous lymph nodes have been removed. With this approach, a radiation oncologist delivers targeted radiation beams, aimed from different directions, to the treatment area.

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy

Intensity modulated radiation therapy is a more highly targeted form of treatment that helps doctors avoid surrounding healthy tissue. The radiation is broken into many smaller, computer-controlled beams of adjustable strengths. Together, these minibeams conform to the size, shape, and location of the area of tissue being targeted.

Managing Side Effects

Your team of Perlmutter Cancer Center doctors carefully plan your radiation therapy to minimize side effects, which can include fatigue, nausea, and irritated skin. Doctors may prescribe medications or recommend integrative health services to help to manage any side effects.