Understanding Advanced Melanoma

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with melanoma, you are probably experiencing many emotions as you process all the information provided by your health care provider. Along with the support of your family, friends, and health care team, taking time to understand your type of advanced melanoma is the first stage of your treatment journey—the more you know, the more informed you can be when making treatment decisions with your health care provider.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the cells which give skin its color, known as melanocytes. Initial signs of a possible case of melanoma are unusual moles, sores, blemishes, lumps, or changes in the look or feel of an area of skin—but only a health care provider can tell you if it is melanoma.

Signs of melanoma pictures

Examples of melanoma on the skin. Source: The Website of the National Cancer Institute


If you have melanoma, you’re not alone

Nearly 100,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma this year in the United States

Advanced melanoma: stages III and IV

When the melanoma cells spread beyond the initial tumor, the melanoma is considered advanced, and can be classified as either stage III or stage IV. Metastatic melanoma is considered advanced melanoma.

  • The cancer has spread to very small tumors on or under the skin (no more than 2 cm from the primary tumor) or to one or more lymph nodes, but not to other parts of the body
  • Surgery is usually an option
  • Adjuvant (after surgery) treatments may be recommended
  • The cancer has spread to lymph nodes that are farther away and/or to other places in the skin or parts of the body (metastatic melanoma)
  • Surgery may or may not be an option
  • Other treatment options usually required

If your melanoma is unresectable, the tumor(s) can’t be completely removed by surgery, either because they have spread to too many places or their location makes the surgery very challenging.


Patients with BRAF mutations have the option of taking targeted therapies, such as BRAF and MEK inhibitors, which are designed to target cells with the BRAF gene mutation and treat this form of advanced melanoma. These targeted therapies are intended to work by blocking the action of certain proteins associated with the BRAF gene so that they inhibit the faulty signals that can lead to the growing and spreading of cancer cells such as melanoma. Targeted therapy can also affect healthy cells. TAFINLAR + MEKINIST combination therapy targets 2 different points in a pathway that sends signals in cells. Although TAFINLAR + MEKINIST combination therapy has been studied in patients who have advanced melanoma with a mutated BRAF gene, the way that TAFINLAR + MEKINIST combination therapy works has only been shown in laboratory studies. Medical research has shown that TAFINLAR + MEKINIST combination therapy may slow the growth of certain melanoma cancer cells that have an abnormal BRAF gene.