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Patient Information: I have malignant melanoma what can I do?



Since malignant melanoma is the most dangerous and most life-threatening of all skin cancers you should seek the advice of a specialist and discuss immediate action and treatment options with him/her. But try to keep in mind that the choice of treatment depends on your individual situation. Different factors such as tumor size, thickness, and stage may be taken into consideration when chosing a treatment.

First choice of treatment is the surgical removement of the tumor. This treatment will require a (local) anesthetic. Usually not only the tumor is cut out but also a security margin of 1 cm (horizontally and vertically) will be removed to make sure no diseased tissue is overlooked.

If the tumor has already reached the lymphatic system, a surgical removal of the whole lymph node may be required to minimize the risk of the melanoma spreading to other parts or organs of the body.

If the melanoma has already spread to other body organs (eg. brain, liver) these tumors should also be removed if possible. If surgery is impossible, radiotherapy or chemotherapy might be suitable treatments.

Radiotherapy


This therapy uses X-rays to destroy damaged cells. Usually the affected area needs to be treated several times to reach a dose that is effective, depending on the size and stage of the tumor. Therefore the therapy might last several weeks.

Chemotherapy


This kind of treatment uses chemicals that have a specific toxic effect upon cancerous tissue. Most anticancer drugs are administered into the vein or into muscle, a few are swallowed. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles: a treatment period is followed by a recovery period, then another treatment period follows, and so on. There are several chemotherapeutic substances available. Individual factors such as tumor spread, affected organs and the patient's general health determine the choice of therapy.

Immunotherapy


Immunotherapy is a therapy that helps to support the immune system. Usually the drug called interferon alpha or interleukin-2 is injected underneath the skin. This treatment might last quite a long time (up to a year or even longer) and is often used in combination with surgical removal of the tumor, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Unfortunately this therapy is connected with several disturbing side effects e.g. flu-like symptoms such as fever, drowsiness and nausea. Sometimes it may also cause a reduction of white, sometimes even red blood cells

This listing of possible treatment options does not claim to be complete. Besides established treatments it includes experimantal chemo- and immuno(chemo)therapies which are being applied in specialized centers and whose efficacy is still being investigated.

Dealing with skin cancer can be very frightening therefore seek the advice of a dermatologist whom you trust and discuss every aspect of your disease openly with him/her.



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