How to Treat Melanoma Skin Cancer

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According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer with more than 53,000 U.S. individuals diagnosed each year. With melanoma, your pigment cells become malignant and can occur in stages. For instance, when the skin cancer starts on your skin, you have stage I melanoma. However, if it has spread to your lymph nodes, then to your liver, brain and lungs, it has advanced to stage IV. So it's important to understand the treatment options available.

  • Undergo surgical excision. If your melanoma is confined to the skin (stages 0-1), your doctor will remove the melanoma by cutting it out. This is usually done in your doctor's office and under anesthesia. You will have a small scar that can fade over time.

  • Include additional treatment for stages II and III melanoma. After your surgical excision, your doctor may consider additional treatment like lymph node biopsy, medicine such as interferon, and observation. A lymph node biopsy will check to make sure the melanoma hasn't spread. Interferon is a protein similar to what your white blood cells produce. It will boost your immune system to fight the cancer and kill the cancer cells.

  • Undergo radiation treatment if your melanoma has advanced to stage IV. When your cancer has spread beyond your skin to your bones, liver or brain, treatment after surgery will be radiation or chemotherapy. Your doctor may decide to treat you with immunotherapy-like vaccines to help your immune system seek and attack cancer cells.

Tips & Warnings

  • Maintain regular doctor appointments after you've been diagnosed with melanoma. After your initial surgery, your doctor will want to follow up approximately every three to six months. After five years, your doctor will want to see you once a year.
  • Continue self-exams. Melanoma can reoccur after your treatment. So make sure your check your lymph nodes for swelling and check for any abnormal changes to your skin at least once a month.
  • Consider reconstructive surgery. If you have late-stage melanoma or your cancer was large, you may need cosmetic surgery to restore your normal appearance.

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