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What Is Stage 3 Melanoma

Immunotherapy & Clinical Trials

Advice for patients with stage 3 melanoma

Voluntary research studies may provide the best hope for stage 3 mesothelioma patients. Immunotherapy and gene therapy are two constantly evolving areas in cancer treatment. In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved multiple immunotherapies for mesothelioma.

Specialists at specific treatment centers offer mesothelioma clinical trials and experimental treatments to improve prognosis and extend life expectancy. Patients should ask their mesothelioma specialists about appropriate clinical trials in their area and the requirements for enrolling in a research trial.

Stage : Melanoma In Situ

The earliest stage of melanoma is stage 0, also known as melanoma in situ or carcinoma in situ. In situ is a Latin phrase that means in position, and this diagnosis means that the cancer cells are present only in the epidermisthe bodys most superficial layer of skinand nowhere else.

This diagnosis has a very good prognosis, Noelani González, MD, an instructor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, tells Health. People with localized melanomas who are treated quickly have a 5-year survival rate of 97%meaning they are, on average, about 97% as likely to still be alive in five years as people who dont have these cancers.

Treatment for this stage cancer involves a wide excision surgery, where the affected skin is cut away and the wound is stitched and bandaged. The skin will be removed with margins, explains Dr. González. That means that some normal skin will also be removed around the edges to make sure there arent any cancer cells left over.

The removed skin is then looked at under a microscope to ensure that all of the cancer was removed with clean margins, says Dr. González. Because stage 0 cancer has not spread to any other tissues or organs, no further treatment is required.

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Is Stage 3 Melanoma Serious

Stage 3 melanoma is quite serious because the cancerous growth has spread from the skin through the underlying fat and tissue and into the nearby lymph nodes. In some cases, cancerous cells may have started to spread to farther parts of the body. Surgical removal of the growth and surrounding tissue, as well as any nearby lymph nodes, may help get rid of the melanoma. Usually, the five-year survival rate for stage 3 melanoma is about 30% to 70%, which means that 30% to 70% of people who have proper treatment will still be alive five years later. However, once the disease has spread from the skin to other parts of the body, it may become fatal relatively quickly.

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Skin Exam And Physical

If youve been diagnosed with melanoma, youve already had a skin biopsy. This biopsy was taken when you had part of the suspicious spot removed. After it was removed, a doctor looked at the spot under a microscope to find out if it contained cancer cells. This is currently the only way to tell if someone has skin cancer.

After getting the diagnosis, the next step is to get a complete skin exam and physical.

During the physical, your dermatologist will feel your lymph nodes. This is where melanoma usually goes when it begins to spread. It usually travels to the lymph nodes closest to the melanoma.

If there is a risk the cancer could have spread, your dermatologist may recommend that you have a lymph node biopsy. If a sentinel lymph node biopsy is recommended, it can be performed at the time of your surgery for melanoma.

After the skin exam and physical, your dermatologist may recommend testing, such as a CAT scan, MRI, or a blood test. These can also help detect spread.

Overview Of Postsurgical Therapy For Patients With Stage Iii Melanoma

Stage 3 Skin Cancer

As mentioned above, adjuvant therapy is additional treatment that is provided following surgery, which is used to destroy any remaining cancer cells and reduce the likelihood that the cancer will recur. In recent years, the traditional adjuvant therapiesthat is, chemotherapy and radiation therapyhave been replaced by more effective immunotherapies and targeted therapies in patients with melanoma.


Immunotherapies increase the activity of the bodys own immune system, improving the ability to find and destroy cancer cells. The newest, most common type of immunotherapy used in patients with melanoma is called checkpoint inhibitors. Checkpoint inhibitors work by blocking a checkpoint in the immune system, thus allowing immune system T cells to better kill melanoma cells that have been left behind after surgery. The keys to turning on this immune process are the checkpoint proteins CTLA-4 , PD-1 , and PD-L1 , with PD in the last 2 proteins an abbreviation for programmed death.

Targeted Therapies

Targeted therapies specifically target the unique features of cancer cells, such as the genetic mutations that lead to uncontrolled cell growth . As with immunotherapies, targeted therapies can be used to kill any cells that were not removed with surgery.

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Systemic Adjuvant Treatment Of Stage Iii Melanoma

Systemic therapy is any treatment directed at destroying cancer cells throughout the body. Many patients with stage III melanoma are at high risk for disease recurrence because undetectable cancer cells referred to as micrometastases have already broken away from the primary cancer and traveled through the lymph and blood system to other locations in the body. The delivery of systemic cancer treatment following surgery is referred to as adjuvant therapy.

Adjuvant treatment of stage III melanoma with newer precision cancer medicines and immunotherapy drugs is the standard of care because they delay the time to cancer recurrence and prolong survival.

Treatments For Stage Iii Melanoma

Stage III melanoma has multiple treatment options and can include surgery , neo-adjuvant therapy, adjuvant therapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials. You will likely see a surgical oncologist for the surgery-related treatments and a medical oncologist for the drug-related treatments. If you have any radiation treatments, you will see a radiation oncologist.

It is important to know whether all of your Stage III melanoma has been completely removed with surgery , or if it was not possible to remove all of the melanoma . These two types of Stage III melanoma are treated very differently. Unresectable Stage III patients are treated similarly to Stage IV melanoma patients. Read about Stage IV melanoma.

Order of Treatment

Patients with melanoma often receive more than one type of treatment, and certain terms are used to describe the order of treatments given. Neo-adjuvant treatment is what is given before primary treatmentin melanoma, primary treatment is generally surgeryto shrink tumors. For Stage III patients, neo-adjuvant treatment is mostly given in clinical trials. Primary treatment is the main treatment to remove cancer. Adjuvant treatment is given after primary treatment to kill any remaining cancer cells. FDA-approved adjuvant therapies for Stage III are noted below.


The standard treatment for all primary melanoma is a surgery called wide local excision. The purpose of the surgery is to remove any cancer remaining after the biopsy of the primary tumor.

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Survival Rates For Melanoma Skin Cancer

Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time after they were diagnosed. They cant tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they cant predict what will happen in any particular persons case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk with your doctor about how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your situation.

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Stage 3 Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Initiating Adjuvant Therapy in Stage 3 Melanoma

Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second-most common form of the disease. Instead of a formal staging system to measure progression, physicians typically use the existing Peritoneal Cancer Index to grade tumors in the abdomen. In addition, the PCI helps doctors determine the stage in many other abdominal cancers.

The PCI ranges from 0 to 39, measuring the spread of tumors across 13 different abdominal sectors. A score between 21 and 30 indicates stage 3 peritoneal mesothelioma. The characteristics of this stage are tumors localized within the abdomen, with some spread to nearby lymph nodes.

If a doctor refers to peritoneal mesothelioma as stage 3, it usually means tumors have spread throughout the abdominal lining and to nearby lymph nodes.Dr. Daniel A. LandauOncologist and hematologist

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Melanoma In The Area Between The Primary Melanoma And The Nearby Lymph Nodes

You usually have surgery to remove satellite or in-transit metastases. If youre not able to have surgery you might have one of the following:

  • laser surgery using a carbon dioxide laser
  • injecting treatment directly into the melanoma , for example talimogene laherparepvec
  • chemotherapy combined with an electric current
  • chemotherapy directly into the leg or arm where the melanoma is
  • targeted cancer drugs

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.

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Surgical Treatment Of Stage Iii Melanoma

Standard surgical treatment for patients with stage III melanoma is removal of the primary cancer with up to 2-centimeter margins of the adjacent skin, depending on the thickness of the primary tumor, and removal of all of the regional lymph nodes. Outcomes of patients with stage III melanoma relate primarily to the extent of lymph node metastasis.

Lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy are used to assess the presence of melanoma cells in the regional lymph nodes in order to help determine which patients may require regional lymph node dissections and systemic adjuvant therapy.

SLNB should be performed prior to wide excision of the primary melanoma to ensure accurate lymphatic mapping. If metastatic melanoma is detected, a complete lymph node dissection can be performed in a second procedure. Patients can be considered for a CLND if the sentinel node is microscopically or macroscopically positive.

Recurrence In Other Parts Of The Body

Stage 3 (III) A, B, And C

Melanoma can also come back in distant parts of the body. Almost any organ can be affected. Most often, the melanoma will come back in the lungs, bones, liver, or brain. Treatment for these recurrences is generally the same as for stage IV melanoma . Melanomas that recur on an arm or leg may be treated with isolated limb perfusion/infusion chemotherapy.

Melanoma that comes back in the brain can be hard to treat. Single tumors can sometimes be removed by surgery. Radiation therapy to the brain may help as well. Systemic treatments might also be tried.

As with other stages of melanoma, people with recurrent melanoma may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

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The Journey Through Stage Iii Melanoma: A Guide For Patients

Melanoma survivorSupported with funding by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, with risk for the disease appearing to be on the rise. Historically, the outlook for patients diagnosed with stage III melanoma has been poor. In recent years, however, new therapies have changed the way in which patients with melanoma are treated. These treatments have already helped many patients to live longer lives with a reduced risk for a recurrence or return of their cancer. Because these treatments are so new, many patients may not know that they even exist, how they work, and what types of side effects they might cause. By providing information about the most recent advances in the treatment of melanoma, we hope to empower patients and their families as they navigate through their journey. It is our belief that this publication will help you to work with your healthcare team as you decide which therapies are best for you.

The Importance Of Taking Medications As Prescribed

To achieve an optimal response to treatment, medications need to be takenprecisely according to a physicians instructions. Immunotherapies are administeredin an infusion center by a healthcare team. Targeted therapies such as BRAFand MEK inhibitors, however, are taken orally. Although oral medications are understandablypreferred by patients, the absence of daily medical supervision meansthat the responsibility for taking these medications rests with the patient and his orher caregivers. With BRAF/MEK targeted therapies used in patients with melanoma,dabrafenib is taken twice daily, whereas trametinib is taken only once daily.26,27Dosing calendars, pillboxes, smartphone alarms, and other types of reminders mayhelp patients and their caregivers follow dosing schedules.

Experiencing such side effects as nausea and vomiting may make adherenceto the dosing regimens of oral targeted therapy challenging, as it may be difficultfor a patient to swallow the next dose of medication.28 Patients should not delayreporting any new or suspected side effect as soon as possible, so that their healthcareteam can work to provide a solution. Even if certain side effects may seemminor, addressing them early on can help limit their severity before they can affecta patients ability to follow the treatment plan.

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Recurrence In Nearby Lymph Nodes

If nearby lymph nodes werenât all removed during the initial treatment, the melanoma might come back in these lymph nodes. Lymph node recurrence is treated by lymph node dissection if it can be done, sometimes followed by adjuvant treatments such as radiation therapy and/or immunotherapy or targeted therapy . If surgery is not an option, radiation therapy or systemic treatment can be used.

Changes To Melanoma Staging

Stage 3 Melanoma Cancer – Alternative Treatment Overview – Oct 7, 2012

Melanoma staging is based on the American Joint Committee on Cancer staging system, which uses 3 key pieces of information to stage a cancer:the extent of the Tumor thickness , whether the melanoma hasspread to local lymph Nodes , and whether the cancer has spread to distantlymph nodes or other organs, or Metastasized . Combining these 3 metrics, theTNM system is then used to classify the stage of a cancer.

In 2017, with the release of the new 8th Edition staging system, the AJCC adjustedmelanoma staging to incorporate additional factors that may affect a patientsresponse to treatment.17 This change from the previous AJCC 7th Edition meansthat many melanomas have been upstaged or downstaged since the 8th Edition staging system wasfully implemented in 2018.17 These changes also affect how clinical trials should beinterpreted: For example, the studies presented below enrolled patients using theolder AJCC 7th Edition staging system, prior to the release of the 8th Edition.

We understand that this change may be confusing for many patients and recommendthat they discuss any questions about the staging of their cancer withtheir treatment team.

The only targeted therapy that is currently available in the United States for the adjuvant treatment of melanoma is dabrafenib in combination with trametinib .7 Using a BRAF inhibitor combined with a MEK inhibitor is more effective than a BRAF inhibitor alone and may prevent melanoma cells from becoming resistant to the BRAF inhibitor .

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Why Melanoma Comes Back

According to Cancer Research UK, if the melanoma is low risk, meaning it is less than .76 mm thick, then there is very little chance that it will return. But if the melanoma is medium risk or high risk then the risk that it will return is higher.

If the melanoma reached advanced stages, there is also a higher risk of recurrence or, for some, treatment may never stop completely.

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Treating Stage Ii Melanoma

Wide excision is the standard treatment for stage II melanoma. The width of the margin depends on the thickness and location of the melanoma.

Because the melanoma may have spread to nearby lymph nodes, many doctors recommend a sentinel lymph node biopsy as well. This is an option that you and your doctor should discuss.

If an SLNB is done and does not find cancer cells in the lymph nodes, then no further treatment is needed, although close follow-up is still important.

If the SLNB finds that the sentinel node contains cancer cells, then a lymph node dissection will probably be done at a later date. Another option might be to watch the lymph nodes closely by getting an ultrasound of the nodes every few months.

If the SLNB found cancer, adjuvant treatment with an immune checkpoint inhibitor or targeted therapy drugs might be recommended to try to lower the chance the melanoma will come back. Other drugs or perhaps vaccines might also be options as part of a clinical trial.

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