What is Metastatic Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of cancer . It begins in the cells that give our skin its color (called melanocytes). It can develop in or around a mole, but it can also occur in other pigmented tissues, such as those found in the eye. 

If melanoma spreads to another area(s) of the body, it is called metastatic melanoma.  Because the cancer cells have moved beyond the initial tumor site, metastatic melanoma can’t be cured, but it can be treated. 

A personal history of melanoma is the main risk factor for advanced disease, as well as how that initial tumor looked or behaved. For example:

  • How deep/thick it was in the skin
  • If there was ulceration and/or
  • Whether lymph nodes were involved and how many

Melanoma can spread to the:
  • Skin (far away from where it first started)
  • Brain
  • Distant lymph nodes (not near the original cancer site)
  • Lung
  • Liver
  • Abdomen 
  • Bone 

Melanoma is called metastatic melanoma if it spreads to other parts of the body. It can develop without warning, or from or near a mole on the skin.  

How someone will fare depends on a number of factors. For example:

  • The location and extent of their disease
  • How fast it is growing

Finding Metastatic Disease

Metastatic melanoma may present in a number of different ways. Often patients detect it themselves after noticing dark, bumpy growths or lesions on their skin. Other times, metastatic melanoma is picked up during a computed tomography (CT) scan that doctors use to monitor high-risk patients (for example, stage III and some stage II patients).

Regular physical exams and checkups are critical for people at high risk. Other tests that may be used to find or monitor your disease include:

  • CT scan
  • Brain MRI or CT scan of the brain
  • PET scan
  • Other lab or blood work

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • What is the risk of my melanoma coming back?
  • How often do I need to see my doctor? 
  • Can I be followed by my dermatologist/internist, or should I be seeing an oncologist too?
  • Do I need CT scans?
  • What is the risk of the radiation from a CT or PET scan?
  • What other ways will my health be monitored?

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