Research into melanoma

Researchers around the world are looking at the causes, diagnosis and treatment of melanoma.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for melanoma in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments must be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are safe

Research into the causes of melanoma

A few people are more at risk of developing melanoma than others, because they have inherited a high risk faulty gene from a relative. Researchers want to find out more about how genes and your surroundings can affect your risk of developing melanoma. They have been looking at gene changes in people with melanoma and in families with a history of melanoma.

Research into tests for melanoma

Researchers have been looking at tests to improve diagnosing melanoma including:

  • blood tests to look for melanoma cells in your blood
  • a new type of microscope to assess your skin, to avoid taking unnecessary biopsies
  • a tool to analyse photographs of moles, to see how well it identifies melanomas

Research into treatment for melanoma

Targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy

Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer cell to grow and survive. Some seek out and destroy cancer cells. Others help the body's immune system to attack the cancer. So some of these drugs are also called immunotherapies.

Researchers are looking at targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy for people with melanoma, to find out:

  • how well they work in combination with other treatment, such as radiotherapy or vaccines
  • how well they work for people with different stages of melanoma
  • the best way to give these drugs - for example, how long to give them, in what combination and in what order
  • how well new drugs work

Researchers are looking at many types of targeted drugs and combinations of immunotherapies for melanoma including:

  • pembrolizumab
  • nivolumab
  • dabrafenib
  • trametinib
  • lenvatinib
  • relatimab
  • durvalumab
  • tremelimumab
  • IMM-101
  • IMCgp100
  • NKTR-214
  • talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) 


Vaccines might help the immune system to kill melanoma cells.

Researchers are looking at different types of vaccines. Some of these contain small pieces of DNA Open a glossary item from cancer cells. Others contain mRNA.

mRNA carries messages from our genes that tell cells what type of protein to make. Researchers think that giving people a small piece of mRNA will tell their body to make a protein that is the same as one in the cancer cells. They hope the body will learn to recognise the new protein as cancer and attack any new cancer cells it finds.

Treatment side effects

Some people with melanoma have treatment with targeted cancer drugs called dabrafenib and trametinib. A high temperature (fever) is a common side effect of these drugs. 

Researchers want to improve how doctors manage fever as a treatment side effect. They want to lower the risk of people needing to go into hospital. And to lower the number of people who have to stop treatment because of fever.

Research into melanoma of the eye (uveal melanoma)

Researchers are studying blood and tissue samples from people having surgery to remove uveal melanoma. They hope to:

  • find features to help predict whether the cancer was likely to spread
  • develop a blood test which would show if cancer had spread when other tests had missed this
  • design new treatments

In another trial, researchers are looking at a new type of immunotherapy called IMCgp100. They want to find out whether IMCgp100 is better than the standard treatment for people with uveal melanoma that has spread.

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