Melanoma is a skin cancer that may have several treatment options. The optimal treatment options will be decided depending on the size and the stage of the melanoma. Some of the most common types of treatment include surgery, immunotherapy (interferon), chemotherapy or radiation therapy. All these treatment options have side effects.

Side Effects of Surgery

The most significant side effect of surgery is the fact that the melanoma can grow back. Even if the melanoma is removed and a generous margin of surrounding tissue are also removed, the cancerous cells may reoccur. Scarring may also be possible, depending on the size of the extracted melanoma and surrounding skin tissue.

Side Effects of Interferon

Interferon treatment (i.e., human leukocyte interferon-alpha) is a type of adjuvant treatment and is recommended to patients that get surgery but have high chances of the cancer reoccurring.

The interferon treatment has serious side effects such as fever, headaches, coughing, confusion, lack of appetite, muscle pain, depression, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, joint pain, hair loss, skin rashes or dizziness.

The interferon is typically administered through injections, so there may be redness, swelling and tissue damage at the incision sites. In some patients, side effects such as an increased pulse, low white blood cell count or elevated levels of liver enzymes may also occur.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is typically administered in addition to surgery, to prevent the recurrence of the melanoma and to stop the cancerous cells from migrating to the rest of the body. Typically, chemotherapy is also mixed with immunotherapy. The side effects of chemo are the most numerous and severe, but chemotherapy may lead to full remission. The side effects of chemo and immunotherapy include:

  • Hair loss
  • Headaches or pain in the treated areas
  • Abdominal pain and stomach cramps
  • Indigestion and digestive problems
  • Allergic reactions to drug compounds
  • Bone pain
  • Blood clots that may lead to dangerous embolisms
  • Bruising
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion, memory loss, vertigo and balance problems
  • Dryness of mouth
  • Vision problems and eye infections
  • Heart failure
  • Hearing problems or loss of hearing
  • Liver toxicity
  • Hypertension
  • Joint pain
  • Frequent infections
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nose bleeds
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Water retention
  • Weight loss or gain

Typically, these side effects will disappear as soon as the treatment is discontinued.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

The side effects of radiation therapy may depend on the area that is being irradiated. Some of the most common side effects of radiation therapy include fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, skin depigmetation and dermatitis.

Radiation therapy will not heal melanoma cancer, but it will relieve the pain, especially in the more advanced stages of the disease. All melanoma cancer treatments have side effects. However, considering that the treatment may manage the cancer and may also cause a total remission, this outbalances the side effects.