Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells, and is sometimes used to treat melanoma. The drugs are usually given in cycles — a treatment period followed by a recovery interval, then another treatment period and so on. In most cases, chemotherapy is conducted as an outpatient — at the hospital, clinic, provider’s office or at home. In some cases, a short hospital stay may be necessary, depending on which drugs are given and on the patient’s general health.

Chemotherapy for melanoma can be given in one of the following ways:

  • Intravenous or by mouth: Either way, the drugs travel throughout the body by entering the bloodstream.
  • Isolated limb perfusion, which is also called isolated arterial perfusion: In this situation, chemotherapy drugs are put directly into the bloodstream of the part of the body that has the melanoma, for example, an arm or a leg. The flow of blood to and from the limb is stopped for a while to allow most of the drug to reach the growth directly. Most of the chemotherapy remains in that limb. In cases where the drugs are heated before injection, the chemotherapy is called hyperthermic perfusion.

Chemotherapy can cause significant side effects, most of which are temporary. Common side effects include:

  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • An increased risk of infection

Fortunately, the side effects of chemotherapy usually disappear shortly after the therapy is completed.