Once a diagnosis of melanoma has been made, the oncologist may order imaging studies to see if melanoma has spread to other areas of the body. Melanoma is staged from stage 0 to IV, with melanoma becoming more advanced the higher the stage.
When the biopsy has resulted with melanoma, and staging studies have been completed, the oncologist can develop a treatment plan.
Surgery is often used as a treatment for melanoma, with the type of surgery being a wide local excision (WLE). During this type of surgery, the entire melanoma lesion along with a wide amount of healthy tissue surrounding it is taken out, to be sure the entire melanoma has been removed. The full amount of tissue that needs to be removed depends upon the size and thickness of the melanoma lesion.
Along with a WLE, a sentinel lymph node biopsy is often done. This surgery identifies the first lymph node closest to the melanoma using a special dye. This helps the surgeon identify it and remove the lymph node for evaluation of the presence of cancer cells.
In addition to surgery, other treatments may be recommended based on the stage of the cancer. A commonly used treatment is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy medications are usually intravenous medications that work by helping the immune system see any melanoma cells in the body. This allows the immune system to help fight against melanoma. Examples of immunotherapy include:
Targeted treatment for BRAF mutations is available as well. Some people may benefit from the use of these after surgery, to help reduce the risk of melanoma returning. These medications work by interfering with the BRAF pathway melanoma cells use to grow. Examples of BRAF targeted therapy include a medication called dabrafenib.
Early stage melanoma and Standard chemotherapy
Standard chemotherapy and radiation are rarely used for early stage melanoma.