Melanoma is a common type of skin cancer, and it is also the most serious. It starts off in the cells that produce the melanin that formulates the coloring for the skin, eyes and the hair. It can also form in the moles, where it is often more difficult to detect. Symptoms can include changes in the way an existing mole grows or alters its appearance, and it can also grow on the skin, resembling a new mole. Due to the high death rate in melanoma, it is important to seek treatment immediately when you notice the early warning signs.
Wide Excision Surgery
When deciding which treatments to explore, many factors come into play. These include: age of the patient, health, your reaction to side effects and the likeliness that the particular treatment will cure or help slow down the effects of the melanoma. With wide excision surgery, anesthesia is injected into the area and the entire tumor is cut out, along with a small portion of the surrounding healthy skin. The sample that is removed is then viewed to be sure that there are no cancerous cells left. The larger that the tumor is in the size, the deeper and wider the incisional margins must be.
Imiquimod crème is a topical lotion that can be used for the treatment of melanoma. It is typically used in the very early stages of the melanoma, as well as after any type of surgery. Then it gets applied to the surrounding areas, along with any remainder of the infected area. It has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and it has shown to produce positive results for those suffering from melanoma. This is also a very good treatment for those patients hoping to avoid surgery at all, or for as long as possible.
Radiation therapy utilizes high-impact x-rays to combat the rapidly growing cancer cells, and the procedure is conducted by a health professional called a radiation oncologist. The most commonly used type of radiation therapy uses a large machine to send the rays, and it is called external-beam radiation therapy. However, radiation therapy can cause some severe side effects, including very irritated and inflamed skin, problems with the interior of the mouth, difficulty in swallowing and constant fatigue. Medications can be prescribed to lessen the effects of these symptoms, especially when radiation therapy is the treatment that makes the most sense for the patient.
Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
Melanoma can easily spread to the lymph nodes, which makes the disease even more dangerous and more difficult to get a handle on. When this type of skin cancer spreads to the sentinel lymph nodes, the lymph nodes should be removed through a surgical procedure, along with the surrounded tissues. Studies have shown that completely removing the lymph nodes will not lessen the length of a person’s life, but it can definitely slow down the progression of melanoma, which is the number one priority. However, patients must be monitored for any buildup of fluid in the infected area.
After a surgical procedure has already been completed to remove the tumor and the surrounding tissues, the radiation oncologist may suggest that the patient undergo adjuvant therapy. This can be especially beneficial when the patient has a high chance of reoccurrence, which it can decrease the chances of, buy may not necessarily prolong the patient’s life. This can be used as a form of radiation of chemotherapy, with its top priority being to ensure that there are no rapidly growing cancer cells remaining in the area after the surgery.
PD-1 inhibitors are another treatment for melanoma. Nivolumab (Opdivo) and Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) are medications that attack the PD-1, which is a protein in the immune system’s cells that are most commonly referred to as T cells. These medications help the cells attack other cells within the body. By blocking the PD-1 and the way it affects the cells, this can help to boost the immune system to fight off the melanoma. It can even help to shrink the size of the tumor and even prolong the patient’s life. These medications are given through an IV (intravenously), typically on a schedule of every two to three weeks.
High doses of interleukin-2 are usually included within the most highly used treatments for melanoma. It is used in the highest percentages of patients who are suffering from stage IV melanoma, and it is highly recommended when the melanoma has spread to surrounding tissues and even organs. While the percentages are much lower at this stage for success, it can help to slow down the spread of the melanoma, prolonging the patient’s life. This particular drug is actually created from a natural part of your own body’s immune system from a molecule called a cytokine, and it can help to stimulate the growth of healthy white blood cells.
Immunotherapy drugs are often referred to as “checkpoint inhibitors”, and they can assist with the symptoms that are often associated with melanoma, as well as provide a better quality of life during treatment and a better prognosis for the patient’s overall lifespan. These drugs and medications include: pembrolizumab (also known as Keytruda), nivolumab (also known as Opdivo) and also ipilimumab (also known as Yervoy). These medications can often have very serious side effects, and the patients using immunotherapy drugs must be closely monitored.
Chemotherapy can be taken intravenously to combat the effects and the progression of melanoma, especially in stage IV. While it is not as successful with patients who are suffering from melanoma as it may be for other types of cancer, it is one of the only viable options for this stage that has proven to help prolong the length of the patient’s life. Of course, chemotherapy can produce some serious side effects, including fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, extreme weight loss and the loss of hair. The most common drugs used for chemotherapy for melanoma are DTIC, BCNU and cisplatin.
Target therapy drugs make use of inhibitors to attempt to help people suffering from Melanoma to live longer, as well as to have a higher quality of life during the treatment process. These drugs and medications include: dabrafenib (Tafinlar), vemurafenib (Zelboraf), trametinib (Mekinist) and cobimetinib (Cotellic). In over half of the cases of melanoma, changes in the BRAF genes may occur. When this happens, these patients typically respond the best to targeted therapy, offering them a real chance to slow down the other effects of this sometimes lethal type of skin cancer.