Surgery to remove the
tumor is the primary treatment of
all stages of melanoma. A wide local excision is used to remove the melanoma and some of the normal tissue around it. Skin grafting (taking skin from another part of the body to replace the skin that is removed) may be done to cover the wound caused by surgery.
It is important to know whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Lymph node mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy are done to check for cancer in the sentinel lymph node (the first lymph node in a group of lymph nodes to receive lymphatic drainage from the primary tumor). It is the first lymph node the cancer is likely to spread to from the primary tumor. A radioactive substance and/or blue dye is injected near the tumor. The substance or dye flows through the lymph ducts to the lymph nodes. The first lymph node to receive the substance or dye is removed. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, more lymph nodes will be removed and tissue samples will be checked for signs of cancer. This is called a lymphadenectomy. Sometimes, a sentinel lymph node is found in more than one group of nodes.
After the doctor removes all the melanoma that can be seen at
the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy after surgery to kill
any cancer cells that are left. Chemotherapy given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
Surgery to remove cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes, lung, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, bone, or brain may be done to improve the patient's quality of life by controlling symptoms.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy).
One type of regional chemotherapy is hyperthermic isolated limb perfusion. With this method, anticancer drugs go directly to the arm or leg the cancer is in. The flow of blood to and from the limb is temporarily stopped with a tourniquet. A warm solution with the anticancer drug is put directly into the blood of the limb. This gives a high dose of drugs to the area where the cancer is.
The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
See Drugs Approved for Melanoma for more information.