Immunotherapy Treatment for Advanced Melanoma

Melanoma ImmunotherapyImmuno-oncology (or immunotherapy) and precision medicine are the newest developments in the treatment of advanced cancer.  Immuno-oncology helps to restore the body’s immune system and improves outcomes when administered alone or in combination with chemotherapy.

Standard treatment options for melanoma are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Immunotherapy is class of treatments that take advantage of a person’s own immune system to help kill cancer cells. 

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a type of immunotherapy used to treat melanoma. These include:

  • Keytruda (pembrolizumab)
  • Opdivo (nivolumab)
  • Yervoy (ipilumumab)
  • Sometimes Yervoy is used in combination with Opdivo


Imlygic (talimogene laherparepvec or T-VEC therapy) is a genetically engineered virus that is used to treat advanced melanoma. The medication is injected directly into the tumor to stimulate an immune response.  

Targeted therapies for melanoma include:

  • BRAF inhibitors
    • BRAF inhibitors are oral medications that help slow down tumor growth in patients with advanced or recurrent melanoma that test positive for the tumor biomarker called a BRAF V600 mutation.
    • About half of all melanomas have a tumor mutation in the BRAF gene.
    • If your melanoma has a BRAF mutation often you will get both a BRAF inhibitor and a MEK inhibitor. Combining these drugs often works better than either one alone.
    • BRAF inhibitors include:
      • Tafinlar (dabrafenib)
      • Braftovi (encorafenib)
      • Zelboraf (vemurafenib)
    • MEK inhibitors
      • MEK inhibitors are oral medications that are given alone or in combination with a BRAF inhibitor to treat melanoma in people with a BRAF V600 mutation.
      • MEK inhibitors include:
        • Mekinist (trametinib)
        • Cotellic (cobimetinib)
        • Mektovi (binimetinib)

The goal of immunotherapy is to help the immune system recognize and eliminate cancer cells by either activating the immune system directly, or by inhibiting mechanisms of suppression of the cancer.

In an attempt to improve the chance of cure, immunotherapies are being tested alone or in combination with chemotherapy in clinical trials.