Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-altering moment, no matter what form of cancer. Unfortunately, skin cancer is a common form. So much so, that before the age of 70, one in five people can develop skin cancer. Melanoma is the more dangerous type of skin cancer and more common. As of 2020, it was believed that 190,060 cases would develop in the United States. Among those cases, 100,350 would be invasive. Keep reading to learn more about the melanoma treatment options available.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is cancer that is developed within melanocytes, the cells that create melanin. This cancer can form anywhere on your skin, eyes or even in the nose or throat. It is the most serious form of skin cancer. While the cause is uncertain, it is known that prolonged exposure to the sun or tanning beds can increase the risk of developing melanoma. Indications of melanoma include a change in the appearance of moles or new skin pigmentation that appears unusual. To determine whether or not a mole or unusual skin pigmentation is cancerous, the doctor will perform a physical examination and remove a skin sample to test.
What are the options for melanoma treatment?
In many cases, surgery is the most common treatment for melanoma as it is effective in curing those in the early stages. A biopsy will be necessary to ensure that all the cancer is removed. Most require minor surgery to remove all traces of cancer. A wide excision surgery involves a local anesthetic to the site of the tumor. The tumor is then removed along with the skin surrounding it, known as the margin before the wound is sewn back together. Another surgery, Mohs surgery, is more involved as a specially trained dermatologist will remove layers of skin at a time. After a layer is removed, they will be tested to see if there are any traces of cancer. If so, more layers will be removed.
Immunotherapy is another treatment option that uses medication to boost the individual’s immune system to fight against cancer cells. These drugs help to turn on or off proteins in order to prompt the immune system into action and are given intravenously. PD-1 inhibitors are drugs that specifically block the PD-1 and targeting T cells, which boost the immune system. Oftentimes, these drugs are the most effective solution for those who are not able to have surgery, or for those whose cancer has spread into different parts of the body. Similarly, PD-L1 inhibitors are used to block the proteins found in tumor and immune cells so that the immune system can fight against the melanoma cells. CTLA-4 inhibitors are also used for individuals who are not able to have surgery to remove cancer, or if cancer has spread to different parts of the body. In some cases, this medication is used to help reduce the return of cancer after having surgery.
Much like immunotherapy, targeted therapy drugs attack cells, specifically melanoma cells that have gene changes. BRAF inhibitors target the BRAF protein to prevent them from growing and mutating, as this is the cause of most melanoma cell changes. The BRAF inhibitors therefore can help to slow or shrink the growth of the cancer cells. MEK inhibitors are also used to help treat melanoma that has spread or is unable to be removed with surgery. The MEK gene works with the BRAF gene in mutations made to melanoma cells. So these MEK inhibitors will block the MEK gene and the BRAF gene.
In most cases, individuals with melanoma do not need radiation as a form of treatment. However, it can be an option for those who are in the early stages and cannot have surgery, for those who have desmoplastic melanoma, after surgery where the lymph nodes were removed, in the event that cancer has returned or to prevent the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
This form of treatment can be used in cases where melanoma is in advanced stages. In most instances, it is not as effective as immunotherapy or targeted therapy. This type of treatment can be given either through a pill or intravenous in order for it to spread within the entire body. It can also be administered to be localized to one part of the body, either the leg or arm, in a procedure called isolated limb perfusion. With this procedure, the blood circulation is kept with the limbs in order for the chemotherapy to directly attack the melanoma.
How can I cope after a melanoma diagnosis?
After receiving a cancer diagnosis, it is natural to feel fear, anxiety, loneliness and even anger. Don’t go through this flood of emotions on your own. It is important to find a support system that can walk with you as you undergo treatment and afterward. Consider seeing a counselor. You will also want to take care of yourself physically. This can include undergoing massage therapy or mind and body therapy. Another way to have peace of mind is to find a dermatologist and keep regular appointments as a way to keep on top of any unusual skin pigmentation.
Melanoma treatment in Columbia
Being diagnosed with melanoma is frightening, but knowing your options can offer you the hope that there is help available. If you find unusual changes in a mole or skin pigmentation, schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified dermatologists today.