Melanoma is an aggressive and deadly form of skin cancer that’s still highly treatable when caught early. Fortunately, melanoma is rarer than less-dangerous forms of skin cancer, but still too many people wait too long to be diagnosed. Melanoma occurs in the malanocytes of the skin, and tumors can take on numerous shapes including small black spots or large irregular growths. Prevention is the real key to treating melanoma - why put yourself at risk when skin cancer is so easily avoided? That said, there are several treatment options for people who are diagnosed with melanoma. Let’s review some of the most common malignant melanoma treatment options.
Understanding the symptoms is the first step toward treatment, as treatment is most effective when administered early. The various symptoms of malignant melanoma are encompassed by the ABCD acronym. In this, A stands for asymmetry, B is for border, C is for color and D is for diameter. Melanoma tumors are usually unevenly toned, and they’re not usually perfectly round, which differentiates them from most normal skin growths. They’re also usually brown or black in color, although they can also be reddish or purple, hence the “C” for colors. Melanoma growths usually grow larger than 6 mm in width, which is why diameter is an important warning sign. Keep in mind these ABCDs when checking your skin for any concerning blemishes.
The most common treatments for melanoma includes surgery, in which surgeons remove the cancerous tumors to prevent the spread of melanoma. At this stage, chemotherapy and radiation are also utilized to eradicate the cancer. Surgery is most appropriate for early-stage melanoma; once the disease becomes more advanced, it can be quite difficult to treat effectively. There are, however, breakthrough treatments that improve the quality of life and remission rates for melanoma cancer patients, including immunotherapy.
Researchers and pharmaceutical companies have recently developed a new drug called Ipilimumab, a protein that aids the immune system in identifying melanoma cells and then eliminate them. Patients who have received this drug in clinical trials had a twenty percent greater chance of surviving one year and lived an average of thirty-two percent longer than those who received traditional treatment. Ipilimumab is the first drug to be proven to increase survival rates in patients with advanced melanoma. This drug has also been successfully combined with the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine to increase overall survival with reduced side effects.
Another immunotherapy option that is on the cusp of a breakthrough is the development of a melanoma vaccine. This experimental therapy currently in clinical trials involves killed melanoma cells that are combined with substances to boost the body’s overall immune system and eradicate the cancer cells. While the presence of the killed melanoma cells does not prevent the disease like other vaccines are meant to, they stimulate the body’s naturally-occurring immune system to destroy the existing disease.
Genetic therapy is another type of targeted therapy being explored by researchers in the treatment of melanoma. At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, researchers have identified four specific types of melanoma which tend to have two different kinds of mutations that lead to cancer growth. A drug called PLX4032 has been developed that, in clinical trials, resulted in shrinkage of melanoma tumors in an amazing eight-one percent of patients. Phase II and Phase III studies show extended survival compared to patients only taking dacarbazine in chemotherapy treatment. Researchers continue to explore different therapies to treat newly discovered or recurring instances of melanoma in skin cancer patients.