Melanoma is skin cancer caused due to genetic mutations in the pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes. These cells are responsible for maintaining skin, hair, and eye color. The mutation results in an imbalance that leads to changes in the composition of existing moles or spots on the body. Visible indicators include rapid changes in the asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and elevation of the moles or spots. Risk factors that can increase the chances of suffering from melanoma include excessive exposure to UV rays, sun damage or sunburn, skin color, family history of the skin disorder, and a weak immune system.
The treatment options for melanoma by stage are as follows:
- Treatment for stage I melanoma
Surgery is one of the best options for people who are suffering from stage 1 melanoma. Wide excision surgery is performed by the doctor to remove the affected area along with a marginal portion of the skin around it depending on the thickness and extent of the skin cancer. Complete removal of the cancerous cells gives patients a better survival rate in the early stages of the condition. Doctors may also recommend a sentinel lymph node biopsy as an alternative to surgery for a slightly more advanced substage of skin cancer. The alternative is recommended for cases wherein there is an increased chance of the melanoma spreading to the lymph nodes and affecting organs through the lymphatic network. Complete removal of lymph nodes in and around the general affected area is done during a sentinel lymph node biopsy.
- Treatment for stage II melanoma
There is an increased risk of metastasis in stage 2 of melanoma. When cancer achieves metastasis, the affected cells can use the lymphatic (lymph nodes) system to spread to any organ or area of the body where a secondary cancer site can develop due to rapid multiplication of cells. Similar to stage 1, wide excision surgery and sentinel lymph node biopsy (also known as lymph node dissection) must be performed to remove the lymph nodes to isolate developing cancer. The extent of metastasis will determine the best possible recourse for treatment in stage 2. Imaging tests including a CT (Computed Tomography) scan and MRI (Magnetic Resource Imaging) must be done to identify and establish the location of cancer.
- Treatment for stage III skin cancer
Stage 3 melanoma indicates that the risk of achieving metastasis is high but cancer has not yet spread to different parts of the body using the lymphatic system. A surgical procedure will not be enough in this case as only a lymph node dissection (complete node removal) can isolate the cancer cells from invading the lymphatic system. Post-surgery, medical professionals recommend a combination of immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy to ensure that the cancer site is clear of malignant cells. In certain severe cases, medical professionals may also recommend certain clinical trials that test newly developed medications and therapies to counter the rapid multiplication of cancer cells.
- Treatment for stage IV melanoma
For people who are suffering from stage 4 melanoma, treatment options are limited as the condition can no longer be cured due to complete metastasis. Cancer has invaded the lymphatic system and has affected distant organs in the body. In severe cases, the affected organs may also require complete removal that affects the chances of recovery and survival considerably. Different combinations of immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy can only help manage the symptoms to perhaps improve the survival rate by a few extra years.