Melanoma is the least common but most serious kind of skin cancer. It begins in the outer-most layer of your skin (the epidermis), in the cells that make melanin (melanocytes). Melanin is the brown pigment in your skin, and what makes a tan.
Because they begin in the melanin-producing cells, melanoma tumors are usually – but not always – brown or black. They are most common on the chest and back (men), legs (women), face and neck, but can occur anywhere on the body. African Americans are less likely to get melanoma, but when they do, the cancer is often on the palm of the hands, soles of the feet or under the nails.
Melanoma is almost always curable if it’s caught early. However, it can spread through the skin layers and to other parts of the body, which will likely make treatment more complicated.
Early-stage melanomas can often be treated with surgery alone. This surgery is usually fairly minor:
- A “wide local excision” is when your surgeon removes the cancer plus some healthy skin margin around the tumor to make sure all the cancer cells are removed. This is done in the hospital, and you can usually go home the same day.
- If the cancer is small and thin enough, your surgeon may be able to remove it during a clinic visit, with local anesthetic.
- Reconstructive plastic surgery is an option to help fix the scar left after the tumor is removed.
Other treatment options
If you have a more advanced stage melanoma, your doctor may recommend additional treatments, including:
- Immunotherapy using medicines to help the body’s own immune system attack the cancer cells.
- Targeted drug therapy based on the genetic make-up of the tumor, including the BRAF, MEK and C-KIT gene mutations
- Radiation therapy
- Clinical trials, including Phase 1 clinical trials for patients with advanced cancer, through the OHSU Knight-Legacy Health Cancer Collaborative
Legacy ranks among the nation's top cancer programs and has received multiple quality awards including the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons' Commission on Cancer.
You're not alone
At the Legacy Cancer Institute we offer services to support every aspect of your treatment including your physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. Our personalized support services begin with our nurse navigators. They will help you throughout your treatment, from knowing what to expect to finding the right support services and helping you manage symptoms and treatment side effects.
Jennifer Garreau, MD, surgical oncologist
Shane Kim, MD, plastic and reconstructive surgeon
Hema Thakar, MD, plastic and reconstructive surgeon
Eric Anderson, MD, medical oncologist
Ted Huang, MD, medical oncologist
Robert Raish, MD, medical oncologist
Jacqueline Vuky, MD, medical oncologist
Andrew Kee, MD, radiation oncologist
Misa Lee, MD, radiation oncologist
Mark Schray, MD, radiation oncologist