Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when pigment-producing skin cells referred to as melanocytes proliferate uncontrollably. This type of cancer has the potential to spread to other parts of your body, even to areas very far from the original site of cancer, such as your vital organs.
Receiving a melanoma diagnosis can set off a cascade of emotions, such as fear and uncertainty, but know that melanoma is highly treatable in its early stages, and working closely with your skin cancer specialist is central to achieving a favorable treatment outcome.
If you’ve just received a melanoma diagnosis, here are things you need to be aware of regarding what your skin cancer specialist may decide to do next.
Further Diagnostic Testing
Your doctor will likely require more tests to determine the type of melanoma you have (e.g., superficial spreading, nodular, lentigo maligna, or acral lentiginous) and how far it has spread.
Your skin cancer specialist may recommend any or a combination of the following tests:
- Lab tests of the biopsy samples- Lab tests may be needed to see if cancer cells have certain gene changes, which might affect your treatment options.
- Chest X-ray- This test is done to see if the cancer cells have spread to your lungs.
- Ultrasound-This allows your doctor to check the lymph nodes near the tumor and see if the cancer has spread there.
- CT orCAT scan- This test uses X-rays to view nearby lymph nodes and see if they are swollen or if organs, such as your lungs or liver, have spots that might indicate the spread of melanoma. If any spots are found, a CT scan can be used to guide a needle into the spots to take a biopsy sample.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan-This test uses radio waves and strong magnets instead of X-rays to check whether there are signs of melanoma in your vital organs, such as your brain and spinal cord.
- Positron emission tomography (PET)scan- This type of test uses a kind of sugar that can be seen within your body with a special camera. If cancer is present, the sugar shows up as “hot spots” in the area of malignancy.
Once your doctor knows where and how far melanoma has spread, they will determine the stage as well as what type of treatment is most appropriate for you. Your cancer can range from stage 0 to stage 4. A lower number indicates your cancer is localized. A higher number denotes a more serious cancer, one that has spread beyond its initial location on your skin.
Your Treatment Options
The type of treatment your skin cancer specialist will recommend will depend on a number of factors, namely:
- The type and stage of your cancer
- Your age
- Your overall health (i.e., whether you have any other health issues)
- Your personal preference
Your treatment plan could consist of any or a combination of the following modalities. Your skin cancer specialist will discuss each of these options, particularly their pros and cons, and decide with you the most appropriate option for your specific condition.
- Surgery – The type of procedure that is best for you will depend on how large the melanoma is and where it is located. If your melanoma is localized, your skin cancer specialist may recommend Mohs surgery, which spares as much healthy skin around the tumor as possible.
- Immunotherapy – This form of treatment boosts your immune system to attack the melanoma cells. The drug is delivered in three ways: intravenously, through a shot, or orally.
- Targeted therapy drugs – These kill cancer cells and not normal cells in the body and may be considered when other treatments are unsuitable or unsuccessful.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy drugs are delivered into the blood and spread through the body, and they are capable of killing fast-growing cancer cells. However, they may also kill good cells like blood cells and hair. Chemotherapy is administered in cycles or rounds, each of which is followed by a break. Often, two or more chemotherapy drugs are given over a period of months.
- Radiotherapy (radiation therapy)- This type of treatment uses high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill cancer cells. If you have a very large tumor on an area of your skin which surgery may not be capable of removing, radiotherapy may be considered as the main treatment modality. Your doctor may also consider radiotherapy if you have other health concerns that might render you ineligible for surgery.
After treatment, you will need to have follow-up visits with your doctor, blood tests, and possibly, other tests to see if your skin cancer has come back. At first, your visits will be every few months. Then, the longer you are cancer-free, the less often the visits will likely be. After five years, follow-up exams may be done once a year.
Melanoma Treatment in Miami, Florida
If you’re in search of a renowned skin cancer specialist within the Miami area, visit us here at the Dermatology & Skin Care Center. The expertise and extensive experience of our very own board-certified skin cancer specialist– Dr. Theodore John “TJ” Giuffrida— has encouraged patients not only in the United States but the world over to gravitate to our clinic.