There are several treatment options for melanoma, depending on the extent of the disease and the patient’s age and general health. Patients have time for second opinions and to talk through all of their options with their doctors and develop a treatment plan that best fits their needs.
Many patients have one or more of the following:
This is the usual treatment for melanoma. A surgeon removes the tumor and some normal tissue surrounding it to reduce the chance that cancer cells will remain in the area. The amount of surrounding skin removed depends on the thickness of the melanoma and how invasive it is.
If a large area of tissue is removed, the surgeon may do a skin graft and use skin from another part of the body to replace the skin that was removed. Lymph nodes near the tumor may also be removed because cancer can spread through the lymphatic system.
Surgery is usually not effective in controlling melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body. In these cases, doctors may use other methods of treatment.
Also called immunotherapy, this form of treatment uses the body’s immune system, either directly or indirectly, to fight cancer or to reduce side effects caused by cancer treatments. Biological therapy for melanoma uses substances called cytokines, which the body produces in small amounts in response to infections and other diseases.
Using modern laboratory techniques, scientists can produce cytokines in large amounts. In some cases, biological therapy given after surgery can help prevent melanoma from recurring.
For patients with metastatic melanoma or a high risk of recurrence, interferon alpha and interleukin-2 (also called IL-2 or aldesleukin) may be recommended after surgery.
A large machine directs radiation at the body and uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used to help control melanoma that has spread to the brain, bones, and other parts of the body. It may shrink the tumor and relieve symptoms.
This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells. In patients with melanoma, chemotherapy can be given by mouth or injection. For melanoma on an arm or leg, drugs are put directly into the bloodstream of that limb. This method is called an isolated limb perfusion or an isolated arterial perfusion. Blood flow to that limb is temporarily stopped, allowing the drug to reach the tumor directly. Drugs may also be heated before injection, called hyperthemic perfusion.
Patients with melanoma have a high risk of developing new melanomas or recurrence of the original melanoma. Patients should have regular check ups with their doctor to increase chances of detecting new melanomas early, and they should examine their skin monthly.
The chance of recurrence is greater in patients with thick melanoma or melanoma that spread to nearby tissue. Follow-up care for patients with a high risk of reoccurrence may include x-rays, blood tests, and scans of the liver, chest, bones, and brain.
Social networking and online support groups are important tools. Reaching out to others who have or have had similar experiences can provide you with valuable insights. Check out Cancer Support Community's The Living Room
for more information on clinically faciliated support online.