Cancer Home > What Is Vemurafenib Used For?

If you have a certain type of skin cancer, your healthcare provider may prescribe vemurafenib. This drug is used for treating melanoma that has spread to other areas of the body or that cannot be treated surgically. Vemurafenib is designed for use in people who have a particular gene that causes abnormal cell growth. It is only approved for people age 18 and older.

An Overview of Uses for Vemurafenib

Vemurafenib (Zelboraf™) is a prescription medication approved to treat melanoma that has spread to other areas of the body (metastasized) or that cannot be treated with surgery. It belongs to a general group of medicines known as kinase inhibitors.
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, and the leading cause of death from skin disease. Melanoma is more likely to spread throughout the body than other types of skin cancer. Although it is not as common as other cancers of the skin, it is becoming much more common every year.
Melanoma begins when melanocytes, or pigment cells (cells that color the skin), gradually become more abnormal and divide without control or order. These cells can invade and destroy the normal cells around them. The abnormal cells form a growth of malignant tissue (a cancerous tumor) on the surface of the skin.
Melanoma can usually be treated with surgery, especially if the cancer is found before it has grown downward from the skin surface and before the cancer cells have spread to other places in the body. However, metastatic melanoma (melanoma that has spread to other organs) is much more difficult to treat.
Doctors do not know why some people develop melanoma, while others do not. What is known is that certain things can increase your risk for developing melanoma. Some of these risk factors include:
  • Having certain types of moles, or several moles
  • Frequent exposure to strong sunlight or artificial sun (such as a tanning device)
  • 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
  • A weakened immune system.
Almost half of the people with melanoma have a mutation, or change, in a cancer-causing gene known as BRAF V600E. Vemurafenib is only approved for use in people with this abnormal gene. Therefore, you will need to be tested for an abnormal BRAF gene to determine if you are eligible for vemurafenib treatment.
In order to perform the test, your healthcare provider will take a small tissue sample from your skin cancer. The tissue sample will then be examined for the presence of a defect in the BRAF gene. If a defect is present, you may be a candidate for vemurafenib treatment.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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