Skin cancer, including melanoma, is a startling diagnosis that can bring on a flood of questions. The key is to tackle the most important question first: who will care for me … all of me? Answer this question well and your experience becomes infinitely more manageable.
At Memorial, the treatment of melanoma extends far beyond the disease. Cancer affects every aspect of your being and this fact shapes our approach to your care. When you come to Memorial, you are not “a cancer patient.” You are you – a unique individual that deserves our very best. At Memorial, “our best” means the highest level of clinical expertise, the most advanced technology, and the fullness of our hearts. It’s a difference that our patients feel every day.
Melanoma is a serious diagnosis because it is more likely to spread than other types of skin cancer. Melanoma can affect people of all ages. In fact, it is one of the most common cancers in people under the age of 30.
Melanoma most typically appears in one of the following ways:
Most melanomas are “cutaneous” – which means they develop on the skin. In men, they most commonly appear on the chest or back. In women, the legs are most affected. Melanomas also frequently appear on the neck or face.
If melanoma spreads to other parts of the body (or metastasizes), it is known as metastatic melanoma. Typically, this type of melanoma first appears in the lymph nodes and then spreads into other organs.
Melanoma typically starts as a growth or lesion that differs from the surrounding skin. Often, these growths are not cancerous at first, but can develop into cancer over time. This is why regular skin checks are so important. Melanoma can be cured if it is discovered and treated early.
There are four key warning signs of melanoma:
Additional symptoms may include:
Not all melanomas develop from moles and symptoms can vary, so it is very important to discuss changes in your skin with your doctor.
While many melanomas develop in areas exposed to the sun, this is not always the case. In addition to examining your legs, torso, arms, face and neck, it is important to look at the areas between your toes, underneath nails, palms of the hands and soles of the feet, genitals and even the eyes.
Melanoma appears much more frequently in Caucasians, especially people with skin that burns or freckles easily.
Most moles do not become cancerous but the presence of several moles can increase the risk of melanoma.
If you have had a parent or sibling with melanoma, you are at increased risk.
A history of sunburns, particularly during childhood, or excessive exposure to sunlight, may increase your chances of developing melanoma.
Repeated exposure to unnatural sources of ultra-violet light such as tanning booths can increase melanoma risk.
To remove the cancerous cells is the primary treatment path for melanoma. If the cancer has not spread beyond the skin, a wide local excision may be performed to remove the cancer and some of the surrounding healthy tissue. A lymphadenectomy is required when melanoma has metastasized to the lymph nodes. In some cases, a skin graft or plastic surgery may be used to repair the surgery site.
Immunotherapy and Chemotherapy
May be prescribed before or after surgery. These treatments use drugs to boost the body’s immune system or to destroy cancer cells. There are several different types of medications used in the treatment of melanoma, depending on your individual case.
Targets cancer cells with focused beams of high-energy radiation. Radiation treatment may be called for following surgery to ensure any remaining cancerous cells are destroyed.