Melanoma, or malignant melanoma, is a type of cancer that grows in the melanocytes and can develop anywhere on the skin. Although less common than other types of cancers, melanoma is the most dangerous condition because it can metastasize at a rapid pace and cause a serious illness, leading to death. Typically caused by overexposure to sunlight, the DNA in the skin cells get damaged and begin to grow out of proportion. The condition is widely diagnosed among a larger population of adults under the age of 40. Moreover, people with a lighter skin tone and females have a greater risk of suffering from melanoma. The condition also has a genetic link; people who have a family history of melanoma are likely at risk to be affected.
When melanoma spreads to other parts of the body or is at an advanced stage, it is considered as metastatic melanoma. It may also popularly be referred to as stage IV melanoma. In metastatic melanoma, the disease often spreads to the lungs, liver, brain, skin tissues, and lymph nodes. Melanoma occurs on the surface of the skin and thus, it can be can be seen. However, in the early stages, there are no signs and can lead to late detection. In metastatic melanoma, patients are often the first to recognize and diagnose the condition. If one views a spot that changes in appearance over time, he/she must show it to the doctor without any further delay. It is better to take the necessary precautions than be sorry.
The symptoms of metastatic melanoma will be noticeable when the disease begins to spread to different body parts. Usually, the first symptom that is seen includes the feeling of hardened lumps of flesh under the surface of the skin. The lymph and nodes appear to be swollen and one will experience pain. A patient may experience constant trouble when breathing and the problem will persist for a long time. Rapid weight loss, headaches, and weakness in the limbs and hands become common.
Diagnosis of metastatic melanoma
Before the diagnosis of metastatic melanoma, the doctor must be provided with a medical history and the symptoms that are being experienced. Usually, metastatic melanoma may be diagnosed in people who already suffer from melanoma. If the individual does not have a medical history of melanoma, the doctor will conduct a skin exam. The skin test can involve three types of biopsy: punch biopsy, excisional biopsy, and shave biopsy. Post the detection of melanoma, a couple of imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI, PET scans, and chest X-rays are used to determine the seriousness of the disease and diagnose if one suffers from metastatic melanoma.
Treatment options for metastatic melanoma
Metastatic melanoma cannot be cured, but there are treatments developed to help the sufferer live a healthier and longer life. The treatment of this condition is complex, and the patient is presented with several options for the treatment process for metastatic melanoma. The main goal of the treatment of metastatic melanoma is to stop the condition from spreading and make the patient feel more comfortable. The following are some of the popular options undertaken for the treatment of metastatic melanoma.
Surgery – Surgery is one of the primary treatments for metastatic melanoma, but it only works when combined with other treatment methods. During surgery, the doctor removes lymph glands and tumors. This eases the symptoms and increases the lifespan of the patient with metastatic melanoma.
Immunotherapy – Immunotherapy is a treatment method used to boost the immune system of the body. When the immune therapy is strong, it can fight the cancer cells better. Immunotherapy is administered through shots in high doses and an IV. It works at shrinking the metastatic melanoma tumor; however, it can have serious side effects. Drugs used in immunotherapy include interferon, nivolumab, ipilimumab, pembrolizumab, etc.
Targeted therapy – As the name suggests, target therapy aims to kill the cancer cells without affecting the healthy cells in the body. Under the targeted therapy, the side-effects caused are much fewer as those that come with chemotherapy. Some of the drugs used are dabrafenib, vemurafenib, cobimetinib, and trametinib. The shrinking of the cancer cells helps in the increasing the lifespan of the sufferer.
Self-care – Undertaking self-care in the form of exercise and eating nutritious food will go a long way in increasing the effectiveness of treatment of metastatic melanoma.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also used; however, the size and location of cancer will determine the effectiveness of the treatment option being used. These treatments may also only work for certain people.
A patient who is diagnosed with metastatic melanoma is given full control over the decisions made during treatment. Melanoma is a serious condition, and its treatment can be very physically and mentally draining. Most importantly, a patient must be able to trust people about their fears and the number of treatment options available for metastatic melanoma. This will help a patient with metastatic melanoma get the best out of life.
The research for better treatment options for metastatic melanoma continues to grow. Over the years, the survival rates have increased and doctors are working towards developing better treatment methods.