Melanoma is often curable with early detection and removal.
What you need to know
Melanoma is the least common, but most serious, kind of skin cancer. It begins in the outermost layer of your skin (the epidermis), in the cells that make melanin (melanocytes). It can also start in eyes or other areas with pigment. Melanin gives skin its tan or brown color and helps protect the deeper layers from the sun. Your birthmarks, freckles and age spots are patches of melanin.
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 may make treatment more complicated.
New melanoma cases have been rising a little more than 1 percent each year. Survival rates are high. Statistics show that five years after diagnosis, more than 90 percent of people are counted as survivors of melanoma.
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Understanding your diagnosis
At this point, you’ve likely had a physical exam and reviewed your health history with your provider. You may have also had a biopsy to confirm your diagnosis. Following a diagnosis of melanoma, you may have more tests to help your doctor understand your cancer stage.
Cancer staging involves identifying where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread and if it is affecting other parts of your body. Knowing the stage allows your doctor to develop your personalized treatment plan.
Some tests your doctor may now recommend include:
- Blood chemistry studies: Your body’s organs and tissues release substances into your blood which may give clues about your cancer. For melanoma, the blood is checked for an enzyme called lactate dehydrogenase or LDH.
- CT scan, MRI or positron emission tomography (PET): Imaging technology to look inside the body.
- Lymph node mapping or sentinel lymph node biopsy: Radioactive material or blue dye is injected near the tumor. It travels through the lymph ducts to the first node or nodes where cancer is likely to spread. A surgeon removes only those node or nodes and a pathologist tests the tissue for cancer.
- Physical exam and history: After diagnosis, your doctor will conduct an exam to look for lumps or other signs of disease as well as collect your health history.
Customized treatment plans
Because each person and every cancer is different, your doctor uses your tests and exams to come up with an individual treatment plan. How long this takes depends on how complex your case is and your treatment goals. During this time, you build a relationship with your cancer doctors. You become a team for your care.
Open, honest communication can only benefit your relationship with your doctors. These tips can also help you get the most from this partnership:
- Prepare in advance: Write down your questions ahead of your visits. A few examples of smart questions:
- Why are we doing these tests?
- Why do you think this treatment is right?
- What side effects might this treatment cause?
- Find trustworthy resources: If you’re looking to learn more, rely on this website or sources your team recommends, so you can make decisions based on good information.
- Take a partner: Bringing a friend or family member to appointments can make you feel more confident and help you remember important details.
There are several ways to treat melanoma depending on its location and extent. Options may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Surgery to remove the tumor is the primary treatment for all stages of melanoma. Patients often receive a combination of treatments.
Early-stage (small) melanomas can often be treated with surgery alone. Learn more about your treatment options.
You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.