Interferon Treatment for Melanoma

Last Modified: March 12, 2006


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I have had a block dissection of the lymph nodes, and the sentinel node was found to contain melanoma cells. I am shortly going on a treatment course of interferon. Is there anything else I can do to improve my chances of survival? What do the statistics predict as my chances of survival? Your advice in this regard would be greatly appreciated.


Suzanne M. McGettigan, MSN, CRNP, AOCN, Board Certified Adult Nurse Practitioner and a Certified Oncology Advanced Practice Nurse, responds:

Interferon is the only FDA-approved treatment for Stage III melanoma. High-dose interferon is given intravenously, five days a week for a month, and then subcutaneously (or into fatty tissue) for the remaining 11 months. Interferon treatment is surrounded by much controversy. This treatment has been associated with an improvement in disease-free survival, but not overall survival (Hurley & Chapman, 2005; Kirkwood et al., 2000; Kirkwood, et al., 1996). This implies that there is a slightly longer time to the development of a recurrence, but no time difference in overall survival when comparing interferon to observation alone. Additionally, interferon is associated with significant toxicities. Patients undergoing high-dose interferon experience depression, fatigue, generalized malaise, flu-like symptoms, abnormal liver function tests, weight loss, and an inability to carry out activities of daily living. For these reasons, some stage III patients choose to not have therapy.

There is no evidence that a special diet can prevent recurrence of the first melanoma or occurrence of a second melanoma in another location. A generally healthy lifestyle is always a good step towards overall health and well-being. This would include sun-avoidance behaviors, regular exercise, and a healthy diet.