Treatment Options for Malignant Melanoma

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  • Diagnosis

    Diagnosis

    Hearing the words, “You have malignant melanoma” can strike fear in even the strongest of hearts. Yet, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center, 84 percent of people discover melanoma in the earliest stages when it’s curable. 

    Even if melanoma is found later, there are many new therapies available. Treatment will depend on the thickness of the melanoma and whether it has spread elsewhere in the body.

    Click through the slideshow to learn about basic treatment options for melanoma.

  • Surgery

    Surgery

    The first step in treating malignant melanoma is to remove the cancerous tumor. A surgery called wide local excision removes the cancer and healthy tissue surrounding the tumor, ensuring that no cancer cells remain.

    You may also have a sentinel node biopsy. In this procedure, a tracer is injected into the cancerous area. The tracer finds the closest lymph node, which will be removed and examined for cancer cells.

    If your doctor discovers any cancerous cells, they may opt to remove more nodes to see the extent of the spread. Surgery may be the only treatment necessary.

  • Biologic Therapy

    Biologic Therapy

    A doctor can now harness a patient’s own immune system to help fend off cancer. There are several types of biologic therapies designed specifically to stimulate the immune system. They’re typically given by injection or infusion in an oncology office.

    Such biologic therapies include:

    • immunotherapy: Interferon, Interleukin, and Yervoy are types of biologic drugs that help the body’s own cells attack and kill the cancer. These are used alone or in combination with chemotherapy.
    • angiogenesis inhibitors: Drugs like Avastin prevent a blood supply that feed malignant tumors from growing. 
  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy

    Patients undergo chemotherapy when their cancer has spread. The location of the tumor and its staging will determine the type of chemotherapy prescribed for malignant melanoma.

    While chemotherapy sounds frightening, many people are surprised to discover that they can work and participate in their day-to-day lives during treatment.

    In a specific therapy for melanoma patients, called regional chemotherapy, high doses of drugs are injected or perfused into the cancerous part of the body only. This procedure is performed in the hospital because it requires temporarily rerouting the blood supply.

  • Radiation

    Radiation

    Radiotherapy is used as a treatment therapy when cancer has been found in the lymph nodes. These high dose X-rays are used to prevent any remaining cells from growing.

    Radiation also may be used when melanoma has spread to bone or an organ. In this case, it’s not expected to cure cancer, but to relieve any symptoms instead. Radiation has relatively minor side effects, the most common of which is fatigue. 

  • Targeted Therapies

    Targeted Therapies

    As researchers have learned more about the way cancer grows and spreads, they have discovered novel ways to attack the cancer without harming healthy cells nearby. These treatments are called targeted because they “target” specific proteins that signal cancer growth.

    Unlike chemotherapy, which acts on every cell in the body, targeted therapies work only on the cancer cells. Many researchers believe that this type of treatment is the future of cancer medicine. 

  • Clinical Trials

    Clinical Trials

    Clinical trials may be an excellent treatment option for those with later stages of the disease. Researchers are coming up with promising new drugs, especially in the biologic and targeted realms.

    Participating in a clinical trial not only helps future patients, but also may help give a person diagnosed with late stage melanoma a longer life. You can ask your doctor about trials that are appropriate for you, or search ClinicalTrials.gov.

  • Life with Melanoma

    Life with Melanoma

    A diagnosis of malignant melanoma can cause a lot of stress and fear. When discovered early, as most cases are, the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. For those with later stage melanoma, new treatments are being developed that can provide a longer, better quality of life.  

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