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Can You Survive Metastatic Melanoma

Driven By Basic Research

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Research in a Stanford basic biology lab has provided a better understanding of why melanoma is so good at evading most treatments. In 2010, Irving Weissman, MD, the director ofStanfords Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, discovered that a subset of melanoma cells have a protein called CD271 jutting out of their surface.

To study these CD271-studded cells further, Weissmans research group turned to samples from patients melanomas, rather than mice with the cancer. Almost everybody uses a line of mice prone to melanoma thats been bred for so many generations it doesnt resemble anything you see in humans, he explained.

Weissman and postdoctoral scholar Alex Boiko, PhD, took the CD271-studded cells from human melanoma biopsies performed at Stanford and implanted them in immune-deficient mice. Almost three-quarters of the CD271-carrying cells took root in the rodents, causing melanoma. But less than one in 10 of the non-CD271-containing cells could do the same. CD271, Boiko and Weissman concluded, was a marker for cancer stem cells cells that are able to give rise to a new tumor.

And while immune approaches like Weissmans progress, research continues on the genetics underlying melanomas, aiming to find genes outside of the BRAF pathway that cause the other half of the melanomas. In his lab, Khavari is developing new strains of mice that have the same genetic mutations that can cause melanoma in humans.

How Long Can You Live With Melanoma

Even though more people are aware of the harmful effects of the sun, rates of skin cancer are on the rise. Melanoma is the least common but often more aggressive type of skin cancer, diagnosed in more than 100,000 Americans each year. It can spread to the liver, brain, lung or soft tissue throughout the body, so treating the disease correctly is critical. No matter how advanced the disease may be at the time of diagnosis, every patient asks the same question: How long can I live with melanoma?

Forever, says Igor Puzanov, MD, MSCI, FACP, Chief of Melanoma at Roswell Park. Thanks to new drugs and treatments, survival rates are improving for melanoma patients as high as 54% at four years for stage 4 patients, with an ipilimumab and nivolumab combination. Thats not to say someone diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 melanoma is left hanging onto a sliver of hope. We are improving survival rates across the board. As survival rates for stage 4 improve, so do those for Stage 3 and so on, down the line.

Red Flag #: Swollen Lymph Nodes

If melanoma spreads, it often goes to the lymph nodes first, says Melinda L. Yushak, M.D., assistant professor of hematology and medical oncology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. The cancer cells will first travel to the nodes closest to the original tumor, she says. Lymph nodes are located throughout your entire body, but large clusters are found in the neck, underarms, chest, abdomen, and groin. If the cancer has made its way to the lymph nodes, it usually wont be painful, but theyll feel swollen or even hard to the touch, Dr. Zaba says.

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Survival Rates By Stage

Stage 0

When melanoma is found and treated early, the chances for long-term, disease-free survival are excellent. With treatment , patients with Stage 0 melanoma have a five- and ten-year overall survival rate of 99%-100%.

Stage I

With the right surgery, patients with Stage I melanoma are considered at low risk for local recurrence or for regional and distant metastases. Despite the low risk, skin self-examinations and physical examinations for early detection of new or recurrent melanoma are important for Stage I survivors.

Large-scale studies have shown the following probabilities of melanoma-free survival. It is important to remember that statistics on the survival rates for people with melanoma are based on annual data from past cases and over multi-year timeframes. Survival rates do not predict your survival.

Stage II

With treatment, Stage II melanoma is considered intermediate- to high-risk for local recurrence or distant metastasis. Skin self-examinations and physical examinations for early detection of new or recurrent melanoma are critical for Stage II survivors.

Large-scale studies have shown the following probabilities of melanoma-free survival. It is important to remember that statistics on the survival rates for people with melanoma are based on annual data from past cases and over multi-year timeframes. Survival rates do not predict your survival.

Stage III

Stage IV

The following factors may provide a relatively more favorable prognosis:


Ask Your Doctor For A Survivorship Care Plan

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Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include:

  • A suggested schedule for follow-up exams and tests
  • A schedule for other tests you might need in the future, such as early detection tests for other types of cancer, or tests to look for long-term health effects from your cancer or its treatment
  • A list of possible late- or long-term side effects from your treatment, including what to watch for and when you should contact your doctor
  • Diet and physical activity suggestions

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Stop Tumors In Their Tracks

Every melanoma has the potential to become deadly, but the difference between an in situ melanoma and one that has begun to metastasize cannot be overstated. There is a drastic change in the survival rate for the various stages of tumors, highlighting the importance of detecting and treating melanomas before they have a chance to progress. Its impossible to predict exactly how fast a melanoma will move from stage to stage, so you should be taking action as soon as possible.

To be sure youre spotting any potential skin cancers early, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends monthly skin checks, and scheduling an annual total body skin exam with a dermatologist. These skin exams can help you take note of any new or changing lesions that have the potential to be cancerous, and have them biopsied and taken care of before they can escalate.

Trust your instincts and dont take no for an answer, Leland says. Insist that a doctor biopsy anything you believe is suspicious.

Skin Cancer: Half Of People Surviving Advanced Melanoma

Health and science correspondent, BBC News

More than half of patients can now survive a deadly skin cancer that was considered untreatable just a decade ago, say UK doctors.

Ten years ago only one-in-20 patients would live for five years after being diagnosed with late-stage melanoma. Most would die in months.

But drugs to harness the body’s immune system mean 52% now live for at least five years, a clinical trial shows.

Doctors said it was an extraordinary and rapid transformation in care.

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A Rapidly Changing Treatment Landscape

Starting in 2011, two new types of drugs started to change the treatment landscape for metastatic melanoma.

One was a group of targeted therapies called BRAF inhibitors and MEK inhibitors. The BRAF and MEK proteins are both part of a cell signaling pathway that commonly drives the growth of melanoma. The other was a type of immunotherapy called immune checkpoint inhibitors, which encourage the bodys own immune system to attack cancer cells.

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration approved the immune checkpoint inhibitor ipilimumab , the first drug to improve how long people with metastatic melanoma lived.

And in a very short amount of time since then, more than 10 drugs have been approved , which have now been shown to improve overall survival in a very meaningful way, said Dr. Olszanski.

Both BRAF and MEK inhibitors, which are typically used in combination, and immunotherapies can cause dramatic and sometimes long-lasting tumor responses in some people with advanced melanoma. However, the overall impact of these drugs on survival in people with melanoma was not clear.

Because more than 90% of melanomas occur in white men and women, the researchers only had enough data to analyze these groups.

But from 2013 to 2016, the trends in mortality reversed. Overall, the melanoma mortality rate declined by 17.9% during the 4-year period. The reduction in deaths was seen in nearly every age group, but was greatest in men aged 50 and older.

Who Gets Metastatic Melanoma

How Cancer Spreads (Metastasis) – Michael Henry, PhD

Melanoma usually starts as a single lesion on the skin or mucous membrane. This lesion can progress to the formation of metastases if it is not recognised and treated effectively at an early stage.

Risk factors for the development of melanoma include:

  • Age
  • A history of previous skin cancer
  • A family history of melanoma
  • Having large numbers of moles especially atypical moles
  • Having fair skin which burns easily
  • Having sun-damaged skin.

The risk of melanoma metastasising is highest in an individual with an aggressive rapidly growing melanoma, an unrecognised melanoma, advanced primary melanoma, melanoma that was not completely excised , and/or is immunosuppressed.

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Treatment Of Metastatic Melanoma

Metastatic melanomas can be difficult to treat. The five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with melanoma that has spread to nearby lymph nodes is 66 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. When cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, there may also be other metastases too small to detect by scans. For people diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma, or melanoma that has spread to distant parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is 27 percent.

For stage 3 and 4 melanomas, the following treatments may be used:

Multiple therapies can be used at any given time, and your care plan is a dynamic process. You and your care team should discuss all the options and decide on a treatment plan. Each treatment has different side effects, and its important to feel fully informed of all the associated risks. Other medications and options may help manage the symptoms of your cancer treatment, so you can live the highest quality of life possible throughout the course of your treatment and disease.


What Do Cutaneous Melanoma Metastases Look Like

Cutaneous melanoma metastases usually grow rapidly within the skin or under the skin surface dermal metastases are more common than subcutaneous. They are usually firm or hard in consistency. Cutaneous metastases may be any colour but are often black or red. They may also ulcerate and bleed.

Cutaneous metastatic melanoma

Epidermotropic metastatic melanoma is rare. In this case, the metastases develop more superficially than usual, within the epidermis. Epidermotropic metastatic melanoma is often initially misdiagnosed as the primary melanoma. The diagnosis of epidermotropic metastatic melanoma should be considered if multiple lesions arise with similar pathology.

Subcutaneous metastases are skin coloured or bluish lumps. They are usually painless.

Subcutaneous metastatic melanoma

Obstruction of lymphatic vessels due to melanoma in the lymph nodes or surgical removal of the lymph glands can result in swelling of the associated limb .

Metastatic melanoma

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When Melanoma Cant Be Cured

If your cancer has spread and it is not possible to cure it by surgery, your doctor may still recommend treatment. In this case, treatment may help to relieve symptoms, might make you feel better and may allow you to live longer.Whether or not you choose to have anti-cancer treatment, symptoms can still be controlled. For example, if you have pain, there are effective treatments for this. General practitioners, specialists and palliative care teams in hospitals all play important roles in helping people with cancer.

Treating Stage 3 Melanoma

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If the melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes , further surgery may be needed to remove them.

Stage 3 melanoma may be diagnosed by a sentinel node biopsy, or you or a member of your treatment team may have felt a lump in your lymph nodes.

The diagnosis of melanoma is usually confirmed using a needle biopsy .

Removing the affected lymph nodes is done under general anaesthetic.

The procedure, called a lymph node dissection, can disrupt the lymphatic system, leading to a build-up of fluids in your limbs. This is known as lymphoedema.

Cancer Research UK has more information about surgery to remove lymph nodes.

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What Are The Prognosis And Survival Rates For Metastatic Melanoma

The prognosis for thin melanomas completely removed by surgery remains quite good although patients require long-term monitoring to watch for both new melanomas as well as evidence of late recurrence and previously undiagnosed metastasis of the original one. Survival rates for melanoma, especially for metastatic melanoma, vary widely according to many factors, including the patients age, overall health, location of the tumor, particular findings on the examination of the biopsy, and the depth and stage. Survival statistics are generally based on five-year survival. Much of the success reported for the targeted therapies focus on disease free time because, in many cases, the actual five-year survival is not affected. It is hoped that combination therapy with two or more agents targeting different stages of the melanoma cell cycle will change that.

  • For stage 1 , five-year survival is near 100%.
  • For stage 2 , five-year survival is 80%-90%.
  • For stage 3 , five-year survival is around 50%.
  • For stage 4 , five-year survival is 10%-25% depending upon sex and other demographic factors.

Keeping Health Insurance And Copies Of Your Medical Records

Even after treatment, its very important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.

At some point after your cancer treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesnt know about your medical history. Its important to keep copies of your medical records to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Learn more in Keeping Copies of Important Medical Records.

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Complications Caused By Treatment

The treatments for metastatic melanoma can cause nausea, pain, vomiting, and fatigue.

Removal of your lymph nodes can disrupt the lymphatic system. This can lead to fluid buildup and swelling in your limbs, called lymphedema.

Some people experience confusion or mental cloudiness during chemotherapy treatment. This is temporary. Others may experience peripheral neuropathy or damage to the nerves from the chemotherapy. This can be permanent.

The Trial Is A Lifesaver

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Ive never had chemotherapy, but I have seen it up close, and it can be pretty harsh, she says, referring to her experience as an MD Anderson volunteer and with her fathers treatment years ago.

Dealing with cancer can be such a difficult fight, she says. Without this clinical trial, I wouldnt be here, and its a great pleasure for me to know that this study will be used to help other people.

Tawbi notes oncologists continue to work with radiation oncologists and neurosurgeons to further improve outcomes and provide the best guidance for patients on initial treatment and the best timing for subsequent treatments, if needed.

Helping 57 or 58 percent of these patients is significant improvement, but our goal is to reach 100 percent, Tawbi says.

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Can A Braf Mutation Cause Medullary Carcinoma

BRAF mutations are not found in follicular thyroid cancer, medullary carcinomas, or benign tumors, so the presence of the mutation can help distinguish different types of thyroid cancer. With papillary thyroid cancer, the presence of a BRAF mutation is associated with a higher risk of recurrence and spread to lymph nodes.

The End Of The Bronze Age

While the newest melanoma drugs aim to decrease the mortality rate attributed to metastatic melanoma, most researchers agree that theres another, more powerful way to lower the number of people who die from the disease: keep people from getting it in the first place.

Despite all the encouraging research in therapies, what would make the most impact on improving survival is better prevention, says Swetter.

Tanning in a UV bed a single time increases a persons risk of developing melanoma by 20 percent, a 2012 study in the British Medical Journal reported. If indoor tanning starts in young adulthood before age 35 or if a person has had more than five sunburns, that risk is at least doubled, studies have found. While most cases of melanoma are in light-skinned Caucasians, dark-skinned people can also get the cancer they also have increased odds the more times they sunburn and the more time they spend in tanning beds. In all, researchers estimated in 2011 that about 86 percent of melanomas in fair-complexioned individuals are due to ultraviolet exposure.

So what can be done to stop these climbing rates? Queensland an Australian state with the highest rates of melanoma in the world launched massive public health campaigns beginning in the 1980s aimed at educating the public on the risks of sun exposure and tanning, as well as how to recognize early melanoma, Swetter says. Since then, theyve seen the rates of melanoma in Queensland start to drop.

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Metastatic Behavior In Melanoma: Timing Pattern Survival And Influencing Factors

Faruk Tas

1Institute of Oncology, Istanbul University, 34390 Istanbul, Turkey


Metastatic melanoma is a fatal disease with a rapid systemic dissemination. This study was conducted to investigate the metastatic behavior, timing, patterns, survival, and influencing factors in MM. 214 patients with MM were evaluated retrospectively. Distant metastases were the most frequent for patients initially metastatic. The median and 1-year survival rates of initially MM patients were 10 months and 41%, respectively. The median time to metastasis for patients with localized disease was 28 months. The timing of appearance of metastases varied minimally however, times to metastases for distant organs varied greatly. For the first metastatic pathway, more than half of the primary metastases were M1A . These findings were in contrast to the results compared with those with metastatic in diagnosis . The median and 1-year survival rates of all patients were 12 months and 49%, respectively. Outcome was higher in M1A than visceral metastases . In conclusion, the fact that over half of all recurrences/metastases occurred within 3 years urges us to concentrate follow-up in the early time periods following diagnosis. Because the clinical behavior of MM is variable, the factors for survival consisting of site and number of metastases should be emphasized.

1. Introduction

2. Material and Methods

3.1. Metastases at Presentation
3.2. Metastases during Follow-Up

4. Discussion


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