"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Treatment of melanoma

If a growth or mole looks like melanoma, the doctor will do a biopsy to verify the diagnosis. This involves removing either a sample of tissue or your complete growth and a few surrounding skin, and examining the tissue under a microscope to see if it's cancerous. Depending on how deep the melanoma is, extra tissue may have to be removed. In some cases, the lymph nodes can also be removed. A procedure called a sentinel node biopsy can show if there are cancer cells in a lymph node near the tumor. If this happens, surgery to quickly remove the additional nodes can improve survival.

In addition to surgery, melanoma treatments include immunotherapy (which strengthens the immune system against cancer), chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Newer, so-called targeted therapies include drugs that concentrate on specific genetic changes in individuals with certain types of melanoma. For example, about half of melanomas have genetic changes (mutations) in a gene called BRAF, which tells melanoma cells to grow and divide faster. Drugs that block BRAF, akin to vemurafenib (Zelboraf) and dabrafenib (Tafinlar), and related proteins are actually available.

About 84% of individuals diagnosed with melanoma of the skin have stage I or localized melanoma, meaning the disease has not spread beyond its original site. The five-year survival rate for them is about 98 percent. But if the cancer has spread to a close-by site, the speed drops to between 62% and 76%. As with other kinds of cancer, if the tumor has spread to distant organs, overall survival is low, about 16%.