What are the Treatments for Metastatic Melanoma?

Erin J. Hill

Metastatic melanoma is generally treated by cutting out the affected portion of skin and then following up with radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. The duration and types of treatments used will depend on where the cancer has spread. If it is contained in the lymph nodes, those will likely be removed followed by chemotherapy. More widespread cancers usually require a combination of these treatments.

When a patient is diagnosed with melanoma, the affected skin may have to be removed.
When a patient is diagnosed with melanoma, the affected skin may have to be removed.

The first treatment used in almost all metastatic melanomas is to cut the affected area of skin out as well as some of the surrounding healthy tissue. Melanoma often appears on top of the skin and it may resemble a mole or stem from an existing mole. The edges are normally undefined, jagged, and many melanomas contain several pigments of brown, black, and pink. Some grow quite large and they are most common in areas of skin that have been exposed to the sun.

Once the visible cancer has been removed, the next step in treatment for metastatic melanoma is to determine where the cancer has spread and how aggressive it seems to be growing. The first area where it usually spreads is the lymph nodes closest to the primary cancer, and those are often removed. If the cancer has moved beyond that, radiation therapy and additional surgeries may be required next.

Metastatic melanoma can migrate to virtually any area of the body. It can lead to tumors on the lungs, bones, liver, reproductive organs, and kidneys. Surgery may be required to remove any tumors, and radiation therapy is often used to kill any remaining cancer cells. Chemotherapy is also used in many cases.

Immunotherapy is another potential treatment option for metastatic melanoma, and it is often used in combination with the other therapies. It implements the body’s own immune system to attack and kill cancer cells. The benefit of this treatment is that it does not destroy healthy cells as chemotherapy and radiation do, and it may lessen the adverse reactions caused by other treatments.

In some instances, melanoma may spread to tissues within a certain digit or body part but not to other outside sources. In this case, amputation of the body part may be necessary to remove the cancer. This is especially common when cancer first appears on the fingers or toes.

Melanoma is the least common of the three primary skin cancers but it is responsible for the most skin cancer deaths. It is the number one cause of cancer in individuals in their twenties. Prognosis is good when it is caught early, as up to 95% of patients with stage I melanoma are cured. Later stages have a poor prognosis, however, as the disease tends to spread quickly.

It is important to check moles regularly to determine if any one of them is changing. Moles should be symmetrical in shape, one color throughout, and they should not get bigger in circumference. Any changes should be investigated by a dermatologist.

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