The treatment of melanoma depends largely on the stage at which it is discovered. Treatments considered curative are those which seek to cure the disease and help the patient recover. In cases of contained superficial melanoma, surgery to remove the surrounding area around the affected mole or lesion is the preferred treatment. Even with more involved melanoma, this is the standard of care. Though most or all of the initial lesion will have been excised in the biopsy, the additional surgery helps to lower the chance that melanoma will recur.
Common Treatment Options
Patients deemed healthy enough may receive interferon treatment in high doses in the year following excision surgery. Interferons are proteins that assist the immune system in fighting foreign cell invasion by tumors or viruses. Interferons bind to and kill the cancer cells and keep them from multiplying, sometimes creating a more positive prognosis. Although commonly used, interferon treatment is controversial because of the severe side effects it produces. Patients often feel ill, tired, have headaches, flu-like symptoms, muscle pain, dizziness, and thinning hair. The interferon therapy causes suppression of the immune system and can make patients more prone to infections. The side-effects end after treatment conclusion.
An experimental therapy, radioimmunotherapy, which uses interferon, is still being tested. The National Cancer Institute developed the therapy and studied its effects on patients with metastatic melanoma. The results were moderately successful in a small number of patients.
Chemotherapy (the use of chemical agents to kill cells) is used to reduce chances of melanoma recurrence. Rarely, chemotherapeutic agents may be used as the sole treatment modality. In the treatment of metastatic melanoma, however, chemotherapy hasn’t historically been successful.
Radiation therapy can reduce the chance of local recurrence, even in advanced patients.
Unfortunately, this therapy doesn’t prolong life for patients with metastatic melanoma.
Adjuvant treatment; which is supplemental treatment after surgery, is often called for in patients with high risk melanoma.
Patients whose cancer have distant metastases, defined as the spread to other parts of the body, are often considered incurable. In these cases, palliative care is appropriate. Palliative treatments are those that don’t aim to cure the disease, but seek to control symptoms, thereby prolonging and improving upon the patient’s quality of life.
Tomorrow’s Melanoma Treatment Options
In June of 2008, scientists at the Hadassa Medical Center in Jerusalem announced the development of a vaccine that may defend against recurrence in patients who have experienced melanoma and help improve the prognoses of patients presently affected.
Alternative Melanoma Treatment Modalities
- Naturopathic medicine, a method that aims to treat the whole patient, not just the area affected by cancer. Using the least invasive methods, naturopathic treatments rely on the body’s inherent capacity to heal itself.
- Nutritional therapy is often administered along with conventional treatments to better equip the body to handle the symptoms of cancer and the side-effects of treatment.
- Patients use meditation, support groups, and counseling to deal with the effects of the disease.