How is melanoma treated?
Surgery is needed to treat melanoma. The skin cancer and some surrounding tissue will be removed. How much skin is removed depends on how deep the melanoma has grown.
If the cancer has spread to close by lymph nodes, these lymph nodes may also be removed. After surgery, interferons are given.
Treatment is more difficult when the melanoma has spread to other organs. When it spreads to other organs, it usually cannot be cured. Treatment involves shrinking the skin cancer and making you as comfortable as possible. You may receive:
- Chemotherapy: Medicines are used to kill cancer cells. these usually given if the melanoma has returned or spread.
- Immunotherapy: Medications such as interferon or interleukin help your immune system fight the cancer. They may used along with chemotherapy and surgery.
- Radiation treatments: These are used to relieve pain or discomfort caused by cancer that has spread.
- Surgery: Surgery is done to remove cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. This is done to relieve pain or discomfort associated with the growing cancer.
Early-stage melanoma can usually be treated with surgery alone.
The treatment for melanoma depends on three factors:
- the age of the person
- the general health of the person
- the stage of the disease
Surgery is the first treatment for all stages of melanoma (IA through IV). The tumor is removed entirely, along with some surrounding tissue (about ¾ of an inch all around). The surgery may be done by a dermatologist or a surgeon, and it sometimes happens as part of the diagnosis process. In some cases, a skin graft may be needed to replace skin that has been removed.
If the melanoma has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, the affected lymph nodes are also removed surgically.
Surgery is usually the only treatment needed for people with early-stage melanomas (thinner melanomas that have not spread to the lymph nodes). However, these patients need regular follow-up visits to the doctor, to make sure the melanoma has not returned and that other moles do not need biopsies.
Once a person has had melanoma, there is a higher chance of getting it again.
- For later-stage melanomas (thick melanomas or those that have spread to the nearby lymph nodes), other treatments besides surgery may be needed. These are called “adjuvant” treatments, and they may take the form of:
- radiation therapy
Melanoma that has spread to distant sites in the body or to other organs (such as the lungs or liver) is known as Stage IV. For these patients, treatment options may be available, including clinical trials. Please discuss your options with your health care professional.
How well a patient does depends how quickly the cancer was diagnosed and how far it has spread.
If caught early, some melanomas can be cured.
Melanoma that is very deep or has spread to the lymph nodes is more likely to return after treatment. If it is deeper than 4 mm or has spread to the lymph nodes, you are more likely to have the cancer spread to other tissues and organs.
Melanoma usually cannot be cured when the cancer has spread beyond the skin and nearby lymph nodes.
If you have had melanoma and recovered, it is very important to examine your body regularly for any unusual changes. Your risk for melanoma is increased once you have had this cancer. Melanoma may return years later.
Complications of melanoma:
Melanoma can spread to other parts of the body very quickly.
Melanoma treatment can cause side effects, including pain, nausea, and fatigue.
Prevention of melanoma:
The American Cancer Society recommends professional skin examinations every year for people older than 40, and every 3 years for people ages 20 – 40.
You should also examine your skin once a month, using a mirror to check hard-to-see places. Call your doctor if you notice any changes.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet light is most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so try to avoid sun exposure during these hours. Protect the skin by wearing hats, long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, or pants.
- Apply high-quality sunscreens with sun protection factor (SPF) ratings of at least 15, even when you are only going outdoors for a short time.
- Apply a large amount of sunscreen on all exposed areas, including ears and feet.
- Use sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB light.
- Use a waterproof formula.
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply it frequently, especially after swimming.
- Use sunscreen in winter, too. Protect yourself even on cloudy days.
Other important facts to help you avoid too much sun exposure:
- Avoid surfaces that reflect light more, such as water, sand, concrete, and white-painted areas.
- The dangers are greater closer to the start of summer.
- Skin burns faster at higher altitudes.
- Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons
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