Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or waves to destroy cancer cells, using a device that targets the affected area and delivers the radiation directly to the cancer cells. To allow normal cells to repair themselves, the treatment is given at a hospital or clinic in one dose or several doses over many weeks.

Radiation may be used to help control melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body. It may shrink growths and relieve symptoms. This form of therapy is not used, however, to treat a single melanoma lesion. It is used as adjuvant therapy, or to treat melanoma that has returned or is widespread.

Radiation therapy is also used to relieve symptoms when the melanoma has spread to the bones or brain. At that stage, treatment will not cure the cancer, but it can help provide relief. Radiation also may be used in combination with other therapies, such as chemotherapy.

General side effects from radiation therapy may include:

  • Red, irritated skin
  • Fatigue 
  • Hair loss, if the scalp is radiated
  • Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing, if therapy is received on the head or neck

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