Melanoma: Dangerous Skin Cancer
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. While making up less than 2 percent of cases, melanoma causes the majority of skin cancer deaths. People under 40 are the most at risk, and women are more at risk than men because they’re usually less protected in the sun. Melanoma develops in the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives the skin its color, and is also known to develop in other organs of the body such as the eyes and internal organs. What causes the melanomas to form isn’t clear, but many believe ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure from the sun or tanning beds and lamps are the main culprits. While research goes on, limiting sun and UV light is believed to help reduce your risk of developing melanoma in the future.
The symptoms of melanoma can be easily missed. The most common symptom of melanoma might be as subtle as changes in an existing mole, in color, size and shape. The exact cause of melanoma is not yet known, but melanoma can be treated successfully if found early in the cycle. This makes knowing the warning signs of skin cancer helpful in detecting and in treating the cancer early before it spreads.
The most common way to treat melanomas is surgery to remove the lymph nodes affected by the cancer, hopefully before it can spread. If the melanoma has metastasized to other lymph nodes, they may also have to be removed. Other treatments may be used in conjunction with the surgery, such as radiation or chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy has long been a top cancer treatment, and and has been effective against melanoma. Chemotherapy is a treatment using drugs to eliminate the cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy can be given either intravenously, or in pill form depending on which method will work best. Sometimes both forms are used. While effective, chemotherapy has been known to cause side effects so use and dosage must be monitored.
Radiation therapy focuses high-powered beams of radiation, such as X-rays, to kill the cancer. Radiation therapy is often used along with surgery, sometimes before the operation to help shrink the cancerous cells, sometimes after. It also can be used to relieve symptoms that may have spread to other areas of the body.
Biological therapy works on your your immune system, helping it fight the cancer. These treatments are made of biological substances that are usually produced by the body or produced in the lab. The side effects can be are flu-like symptoms, such as chills, fever, fatigue, headaches and muscle aches and pains. The drugs therapies used to treat melanoma include interferon and interleukin-2. Also used is the drug Ipilimumab (Yervoy), designed to work along with the immune system to fight advanced melanoma that has metastasized.
Targeted therapy targets vulnerabilities in the cancer cells. These are targeted therapy drugs include Vemurafenib (Zelboraf) and dabrafenib (Tafinlar) treating the advanced melanoma cases that don’t respond to surgery or has metastasized through the body. While effective, they can only be used to in treating melanomas with a certain genetic mutation. The cells taken from the melanoma are tested to better understand if these medication can be of use in individual cases.