What Is Mekinist Used For?
) is a prescription medication approved to treat people who have melanoma
, a life-threatening type of skin cancer
. It is used when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized) or cannot be treated with surgery. It can be used alone or in combination with dabrafenib (Tafinlar®
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer
. It begins in melanocytes, the cells that make the pigment melanin. Melanin is the substance that gives color to the skin, hair, and irises of the eyes.
Melanoma occurs when abnormal melanocytes divide without control or order, forming a growth of malignant tissue (a cancerous tumor) on the surface of the skin. Although melanoma often starts in a mole, it can also begin in any area of the body that contains pigmented cells, such as the eye. In rare cases, it may even arise in the digestive tract, lymph nodes, or other areas where melanocytes are found.
Melanoma can often be treated with surgery if it is found early. However, melanoma is one of the most serious types of skin cancer. This is because advanced melanomas have the ability to spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma that has spread to other organs is known as metastatic melanoma. Metastatic melanoma is much more difficult to treat.
(Click Melanoma Treatment for more information about various treatments, including surgery.)
Medical experts do not know why some people develop melanoma, while others do not. However, research has shown that certain things may increase a person's chances of developing melanoma. Things that make a person more likely to develop melanoma include:
- Having certain types of moles, or several moles
- Frequent exposure to strong sunlight or artificial sun (such as tanning beds)
- A family history of melanoma
- Having had one or more severe sunburns as a child
- Having fair skin, blue eyes, and red or blond hair
- Having a weakened immune system.
(Click on Causes of Melanoma if you want to learn more about potential risk factors for this condition.)
Mekinist is specifically approved for use in people who have an abnormal change (mutation) in a gene known as the BRAF gene. BRAF is a gene in the body that makes a protein which helps control how cells grow and divide. About half of the people with melanoma have a mutation in the BRAF gene.
These mutations are not inherited (passed down from parents to their children), but instead happen during a person's lifetime. When they occur, the BRAF gene becomes overactive, causing cells to grow and divide out of control.
Scientists give names to the mutations based on where they occur and what they cause. Mekinist can be used in people who have what scientists call the V600E mutation or the V600K mutation. Your healthcare provider will do a test to determine whether you have one of these mutations in your BRAF gene before starting treatment.
As mentioned previously, Mekinist can be used alone or in combination with dabrafenib (Tafinlar). When used alone, Mekinist should not be used in people who have already been treated with a BRAF inhibitor medication, such as dabrafenib (Tafinlar) or vemurafenib