As declared by the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Although melanoma ranks as one of the least common varieties of skin cancer, it classifies as an aggressive cancer because it grows and spreads rapidly, especially more so than many other forms of skin cancer. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society indicate an estimated 1,169,351 people had melanoma of the skin in the U.S. in 2014 alone. If you should have a melanoma diagnosis, you should be aware of the different treatments available and what to expect in terms of side effects.
Definition of Melanoma
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer because of how quickly it progresses. It may develop in your eyes as well as on your skin. Although it’s rare, this particular form of cancer may develop in your organs and intestines. The cancer affects the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin, the substance that gives your skin its tone. A high exposure to the sun’s UV rays put you more at risk for developing melanoma.
Treatment of Melanoma
The course of action for treating a melanoma depends on the severity of it, if it spread and its location. In the beginning, an oncologist will remove the melanoma using surgery. If the melanoma is thin, the oncologist might remove it during the biopsy. It won’t require additional treatment unless it should happen to regrow. If the cancer is large, the oncologist will remove the cancerous area along with the border and first layer of skin beneath the area.
In cases where the melanoma has spread, a cancer specialist may have to surgically remove any lymph nodes affected by the cancer. An oncologist might use chemotherapy to eliminate the cancer cells. This particular treatment may be conducted intravenously or orally. If the melanoma is in your arm or leg, the oncologist may administer the drug into the limb via a procedure known as an isolated limb perfusion, which is an injection that must remain only in the area for a designated amount of time.
High-powered light energy beams may be used to destroy cancer cells, which is a process known as radiation. Radiation is usually used after surgery to remove the lymph nodes and kill the melanoma in other areas of the body.
Biological therapy will enhance the immune system, so it’s more capable of warding off the cancer. The therapy may consist of agents produced by the body or ones manufactured in the laboratory. Some examples include interferon, ipilimumab and pembrolizumab.
Targeted therapy uses medications to attack the weaknesses in the cancer cells. This treatment works well only if your cancer has certain genetic mutations. It’s only used in advanced stages of melanoma.
Side Effects of the Melanoma Treatments
The treatment for melanoma that has the least amount of side effects is when the oncologist removes the cancer during the biopsy. Using surgery in the early stages is relatively safe. You might experience pain, redness and soreness at the site. Infection is possible.
Chemotherapy of any variety has the potential to cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and hair loss. You could develop anemia. Radiation can kill healthy cells. The radiation is aimed at a specific area, so your symptoms will depend on where you have the radiation.
If part of the cancer treatment process consists of lymph node removal, you might develop an infection at the site. A condition known as seroma could develop, which is the buildup of fluid around the site. Lymphedema is possible if you had the surgery conducted on a limb. It’s possible you’ll feel numbness, tingling or pain at the surgery site. The skin over the incision may break down.
Biological therapy side effects cause flulike symptoms such as nausea, chills, muscle aches, malaise, headaches and fever. The tissue surrounding the injection site may become damaged. Patients could experience depression, suicidal actions, liver failure, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, joint aches, back pain, confusion, increased heart rate (tachycardia), anorexia, low white blood cell count or difficulty breathing, among others.
Targeted therapy drugs can cause a rash, skin changes, blistering, irritation, itchiness or hives. Bloating, a bloody nose or vision changes are possible. Some people have paralysis, weight gain, diarrhea or cough up blood. A patient who uses a targeted therapy like Menkinist may have red or brown urine or red or black stool. Stomach cramping, an increase in menstrual flow or a loss of taste is possible when using targeted therapy.
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