Melanoma: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 02/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about melanoma and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about melanoma, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. This section is not meant to be a complete list of new clinical trials because this field is changing rapidly. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

  • Enhanced prevention and early detection methods. There is ongoing research on better prevention and early detection strategies for melanoma. Both primary and secondary prevention are important. Primary prevention involves keeping melanoma from developing, such as reducing exposure of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and avoiding the use of indoor tanning in any form. Secondary prevention includes methods of early detection. One promising area is the screening of people with a high risk of developing melanoma, as described earlier in this guide.

  • Targeted therapy. As discussed in Types of Treatment, targeted therapy is a treatment that targets specific genes or proteins. Research has identified a number of molecular pathways and activated or mutated genes in melanoma. Clinical trials are testing new drugs to inhibit the MAP kinase pathway and other pathways that melanoma might use to grow and spread. Strategies to prevent the melanoma from becoming resistant to treatment are also being tested, such as using combinations of drugs or exploring new schedules of giving drugs to patients.

  • Immunotherapy. As explained in Types of Treatment, immunotherapy is an important treatment option for melanoma. Researchers are studying new checkpoint inhibitors and immunotherapies directed at other parts of the immune system. These include TIM3 inhibitors, LAG3 inhibitors, OX40 agonists, CD137 agonists, GITR agonists, and IDO inhibitors. Also, a number of combinations of immunotherapies are being looked at, including all of the above drugs with PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitors, as well as combinations of targeted therapies with PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitors. Recently, the combination of a LAG3 inhibitor, called relatlimab, and nivolumab was shown to delay tumor growth when compared with nivolumab alone in people with newly diagnosed, unresectable stage III or metastatic melanoma. A fixed-dose combination of these 2 drugs, called Opdualag, has been approved to treat unresectable stage III or stage IV melanoma in people aged 12 and older. It is considered an alternative standard of care treatment to using a single PD-1 inhibitor and to using a combination of ipilimumab and nivolumab.

  • Adoptive cell therapy (ACT), chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy, and T-cell receptor (TCR) therapy. Another type of experimental immunotherapy involves altering a person’s white blood cells, known as lymphocytes, in a laboratory. In ACT, this may involve a surgical procedure to remove a tumor, isolate the white blood cells, and expand them outside the body. In CAR-T therapy and TCR therapy, white blood cells are removed from the body using a procedure called pheresis. The white blood cells are modified to better recognize cancer cells. This is done to increase their ability to fight the tumor. Then, the cells are given back to the patient, often in combination with chemotherapy, interleukin-2, and/or other immunotherapies.

  • Vaccines. Therapeutic vaccines that may improve the specific immune response to melanoma have been the focus of multiple clinical trials. Melanoma peptide vaccines are being evaluated in clinical trials for patients with both localized and advanced melanoma. Research has shown that vaccination can cause the immune system to fight melanoma, even in advanced disease, but these treatments are still considered experimental. The vaccines are made using certain proteins found only on a melanoma tumor and are given as an injection. The person’s immune system then recognizes the proteins and destroys melanoma cancer cells. To date, no vaccines have shown a clinical benefit in patients. Learn more about the basics of cancer vaccines.

  • Palliative and supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current melanoma treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in melanoma, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.