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What Happens If I Have Melanoma

Red Flag #: Swollen Lymph Nodes

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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.

What Causes Melanoma In Children

It is not known why children get melanoma early in life. Most adult melanomas can be linked to ultraviolet exposure from the suns rays. UV damage is most commonly seen in sunburns. Melanin can help protect the skin from this damage.;

People with more melanin and darker skin are less likely to develop melanoma. People who tan poorly and sunburn easilysuch as those with fair skin, light hair and blue eyeshave less melanin and are more likely to develop melanoma.

Other factors that may increase the chance of developing melanoma include:

  • Fair skin, light hair and freckles
  • Several large moles or many small moles
  • A history of blistering sunburns or sunbathing
  • A history of using tanning beds
  • Exposure to X-rays
  • A family history of melanoma

Certain genetic conditions increase a child’s risk of developing melanoma. These include:

  • Xeroderma pigmentosum

Early Warning Signs Of Melanoma

The key to detecting melanoma early is to know what to look for and where to look for it. This isnt always easy, as melanoma can be a master of disguise. It may look like an age spot, a bruise, a sore, a cyst, a scar or a dark line beneath your nail. You may not feel a melanoma, but there are times that it may itch, hurt or bleed.

The ABCDE method;may help you determine whether an abnormal skin growth may be melanoma:

  • A is for asymmetry: Does the mark look different on each half?
  • B is for border: Are the edges jagged or irregular?
  • C is for color: Is your lesion uneven in color with specks of black, brown and tan?
  • D is for diameter: Is your lesion getting larger?
  • E is for evolving or elevation: Has your lesion changed in size, shape or texture over the past few weeks or months?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, or even maybe, see a dermatologist for a proper evaluation. The only way to be sure whether a mole;is melanoma is to visit a doctor.

Other melanoma warning signs may include:

  • Sores that dont heal
  • Pigment, redness or swelling that spreads outside the border of a spot to the surrounding skin
  • Itchiness, tenderness or pain

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What Are The Causes And Risk Factors For Melanoma

Guideline # 5: Individual sunburns do raise one’s risk of melanoma. However, slow daily sun exposure, even without burning, may also substantially raise someone’s risk of skin cancer.

Factors that raise one’s risk for melanoma include the following:

  • Caucasian ancestry
  • Fair skin, light hair, and light-colored eyes
  • A history of intense, intermittent sun exposure, especially in childhood
  • Many moles
  • Large, irregular, or “funny looking” moles
  • Close blood relatives — parents, siblings, and children — with melanoma

The presence of close family with melanoma is a high risk factor, although looking at all cases of melanoma, only 10% of cases run in families.

Having a history of other sun-induced skin cancers raises one’s risk of melanoma because they are markers of long-term sun exposure. The basic cell type is different, however, and a basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma cannot “turn into melanoma” or vice versa.

    It is no longer recommended to do large batteries of screening tests on patients with thin, uncomplicated melanoma excisions, but patients who have had thicker tumors diagnosed or who already have signs and symptoms of metastatic melanoma may need to have MRIs, PET scans, CT scans, chest X-rays, or other X-rays of bones when there is a concern of metastasis.

    The biopsy report may show any of the following:

    In general, early localized melanoma is treated by surgery alone.

    How Is Melanoma Of The Head And Neck Diagnosed

    Mammograms and Pregnancy

    Diagnosis is made by clinical exam and a biopsy. Melanoma is diagnosed by the presence of abnormal melanocytes.

    Melanoma of the skin is staged based on how deeply it invades the skin layers and whether or not it has spread. A superficial or shave biopsy will not provide the accurate staging information used to guide treatment. The depth of invasion determines the risk of spread to lymph nodes or other organs. Ulceration and microsatellitosis are additional diagnostic features that, when present, are associated with a higher risk of spread. In patients without clinically enlarged lymph nodes, sentinel lymph node biopsy is used to determine if microscopic spread to lymph nodes in the neck has occurred, and is used for all but very thin melanomas unless other high-risk features are present.

    This information is used for staging, to guide prognosis and further treatment. Thick melanomas are associated with a higher risk of spread to other organs, which is evaluated by pretreatment imaging. When enlarged lymph nodes are detected on clinical exam, a fine needle aspiration biopsy is performed to determine whether melanoma is present in nodes.

    Some subtypes of melanoma may be less likely to spread: lentigo maligna and desmoplastic melanoma. The role of sentinel node biopsy is controversial in these cases, and will be discussed with you by your treatment team.

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    How Can You Manage Stage 3 Melanoma

    Managing stage 3 melanoma can be challenging. With technological and medical advances, this diagnosis may not be as severe as it once was.

    After your surgery or if youre unable to undergo surgery, you may need adjuvant treatment to prevent the cancer from coming back. There is adjuvant radiation therapy and adjuvant immunotherapy. These therapies help reduce the risk of melanoma returning, but they dont increase your survival rate.

    If The Cancer Comes Back

    If melanoma does come back at some point, your treatment options will depend on where the cancer is, what treatments youve had before, and your overall health. For more on how recurrent cancer is treated, see Treatment of Melanoma Skin Cancer by Stage. For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, see;Understanding Recurrence.

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    How Does The Doctor Know I Have Melanoma

    A new spot on your skin or a spot thats changing in size, shape, or color may be a warning sign of melanoma. If you have any of these changes, have your skin checked by a doctor.

    The doctor will ask you questions about when the spot on your skin first showed up and if it has changed in size or the way it looks. The rest of your skin will be checked. During the exam your doctor will check the size, shape, color and texture of any skin changes. If signs are pointing to melanoma, more tests will be done.

    Symptoms If Cancer Has Spread To The Lymph Nodes

    It’s “just” basal cell

    Lymph nodes are part of a system of tubes and glands in the body that filters body fluids and fights infection.

    The most common symptom if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes is that they feel hard or swollen. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck area can make it hard to swallow.

    Cancer cells can also stop lymph fluid from draining away. This might lead to swelling in the neck or face due to fluid buildup in that area. The swelling is called lymphoedema.

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    What Are The Four Main Types Of Melanoma Of The Skin

    Superficial spreading melanoma

    What you should know: This is the most common form of melanoma.

    How and where it grows: It can arise in an existing mole or appear as a new lesion. When it begins in a mole that is already on the skin, it tends to grow on the surface of the skin for some time before penetrating more deeply. While it can be found nearly anywhere on the body, it is most likely to appear on the torso in men, the legs in women and the upper back in both.

    What it looks like:; It may appear as a flat or slightly raised and discolored, asymmetrical patch with uneven borders. Colors include shades of tan, brown, black, red/pink, blue or white. It can also lack pigment and appear as a pink or skin-tone lesion .

    Lentigo maligna

    What you should know: This form of melanoma often develops in older people. When this cancer becomes invasive or spreads beyond the original site, the disease is known as lentigo maligna melanoma.

    How and where it grows: This form of melanoma is similar to the superficial spreading type, growing close to the skin surface at first. The tumor typically arises on sun-damaged skin on the face, ears, arms or upper torso.

    What it looks like:; It may look like a flat or slightly raised, blotchy patch with uneven borders. Color is usually blue-black, but can vary from tan to brown or dark brown.

    Acral lentiginous melanoma

    What you should know: This is the most common form of melanoma found in people of color, including individuals of African ancestry.

    Are There Any Risks In Having A Slnb

    Every surgery has risks. After a SLNB, you may have numbness, pain, or bruising where the lymph node was removed. You may also have a buildup of fluid in the area. Sometimes, the skin in the area where you had the SLNB feels hard or thick. This can make it difficult to move that part of your body. These side effects tend to be temporary.

    Some patients have an allergic reaction to the blue dye. A few patients have developed a life-threatening allergic reaction.

    If you have any allergies, tell your doctors before having a SLNB.

    With any surgery, you can develop an infection. Following the instructions given to you after the surgery can reduce this risk.

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    Living As A Melanoma Skin Cancer Survivor

    For many people with melanoma, treatment can remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about cancer growing or coming back. This is very common if youve had cancer.

    For some people, the melanoma may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatment with immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, or other treatments to try to help keep the cancer under control for as long as possible. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty.

    Tests That Might Be Done

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    Biopsy: In a biopsy, the doctor takes out a small piece of tissue to check it for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only way to tell for sure if you have skin cancer and what kind it is. There are many types of skin biopsies. Ask your doctor what kind you will need. Each type has pros and cons. The choice of which type to use depends on your own case.

    Lab tests of biopsy samples: If melanoma is found, lab tests might be done on the cancer cells to see if they have certain gene changes. This might affect your treatment options.

    Chest x-ray: This test may be done to see if the melanoma has spread to your lungs.

    Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves and their echoes to make pictures of the inside of your body. Ultrasound might be used to look at lymph nodes near the tumor to see if the cancer has spread there.

    CT or CAT scan: This test uses x-rays to make detailed pictures of your insides. A CT scan may be used to see if nearby lymph nodes are swollen or if organs like the lungs or liver have spots that might be from the spread of melanoma. If any spots are found, a CT scan might be used to guide a needle into the spots to do a biopsy.

    MRI scan: This test uses radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays to make detailed pictures of your insides. It’s very good for looking at the brain and spinal cord. This test can help show if the cancer has spread.

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    Risks Associated With Untreated Basal Cell Carcinoma

    Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. Its also the slowest growing of the common forms of skin cancer and the least likely to metastasize, meaning it rarely spreads to other parts of the body. However, basal cell carcinoma presents a risk for disfigurement if left untreated. Without proper intervention, basal cell carcinoma can grow and invade local structures.; Additionally, these lesions may present a risk for ulceration , bleeding, and infection. The type of treatment available in the early stages is likely to be more effective, less invasive, and more cost-effective. The longer basal cell carcinoma goes untreated, the procedures necessary to remove it become more advanced, invasive, and costly.

    Treatment For Recurrent Melanoma

    A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team .

    Your doctor or cancer specialist or nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about things to consider when making treatment decisions.

    You may have one or more of the following treatments:

    • Surgery

      Surgery;is the main treatment for a melanoma that comes back in the same area . If melanoma has come back in more than one area, it may be hard to remove it with surgery.

    • Immunotherapy

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    Learn As Much As You Can

    For many people, cancer is a new, confusing world. You might hear new words you donât understand, and it may seem like strangers are making life-altering decisions.

    One way you can take charge is to educate yourself. Your doctor is a good starting point for information, but you can also look up support networks and online message boards. Be sure youâre looking at information from reliable, well-known groups, though. Also, keep in mind that what some people went through with melanoma may not happen to you.

    When you learn more about melanoma, youâll know what to expect, which can help you feel less afraid. And less stress means a better shot at recovery.

    Melanoma Can Go Away On Its Own

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    Melanoma on the skin can spontaneously regress, or begin to, without any treatment. Thats because the bodys immune system is able launch an assault on the disease thats strong enough to spur its retreat. Unfortunately, sometimes this happens only after the disease has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, bones, or brain.;

    The observation that the immune system can cause melanoma to regress was one of the key insights that led to the development of immunotherapy as a successful treatment for melanoma, explains Dr. Marghoob. The thinking went, if the immune system can get rid of melanoma on its own, there must also be a way to enhance the immune systems natural ability to fight melanoma. This eventually led researchers to develop drugs designed to enhance the immune systems ability to successfully fight melanoma that has spread.

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    Could I Get A Second Cancer After Melanoma Treatment

    People whove had melanoma can still get other cancers. In fact, melanoma survivors are at higher risk for getting some other types of cancer:

    • Another skin cancer, including melanoma
    • Salivary gland cancer
    • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

    The most common second cancer in survivors of skin melanoma is another skin cancer.

    There are steps you can take to lower your risk of getting another cancer and stay as healthy as possible. For example, its important to limit your exposure to UV rays, which can increase your risk for many types of skin cancer. Its also important to stay away from tobacco products. Smoking increases the risk of many cancers.

    To help maintain good health, melanoma survivors should also:

    • Get to;and stay at a healthy weight
    • Keep physically active and limit the time you spend sitting or lying down
    • Follow a healthy eating pattern that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limits or avoids red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and highly processed foods
    • Not drink alcohol. If you do drink, have no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 per day for men

    These steps may also lower the risk of other health problems.

    Melanoma survivors should also follow the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer, such as those for colorectal and lung cancer. Most experts dont recommend any other specific tests to look for second cancers unless you have symptoms.

    Think About A Second Opinion

    Melanoma can be tricky to diagnose and to treat. You don’t have to take your doctor’s word as the final say on either of them. Think about asking another specialist to confirm the diagnosis and to discuss your options for treatment.

    Another viewpoint is especially important if your doctor doesnât treat melanoma often or usually works with a different type than the one you have. There are many cancer treatments out there, and what works for one person may not work for you.

    Don’t feel bad. Doctors are used to patients asking for second opinions. Some even recommend it. And not only will most insurance companies pay for a visit to another doc, some require it.

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