What is skin cancer and melanoma?
Skin cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the skin, especially in areas that are routinely exposed to the sun including the hands, face, neck, shoulders, and arms. It can, however, occur anywhere on the body. It affects people of every age and race, and is found in both men and women. In early stages, skin cancer produces no symptoms other than subtle changes in skin color or texture.
While it can affect all skin surfaces, a particularly dangerous form called melanoma forms in skin that produces pigment – typically in moles, freckles, and age spots. Melanoma can be cured with surgery if caught early, but once it spreads to other parts of the body it is frequently fatal.
How is skin cancer diagnosed?
When your physician suspects skin cancer or melanoma, a biopsy will be performed to make a definite diagnosis. A biopsy can usually be done in the physician’s office using local anesthesia. A physician will remove a sample of the suspicious tissue which a pathologist will then examine under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
Additional tests to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes may also be performed. These tests indicate how aggressive the cancer is and affect the treatment you receive. This evaluation is called staging.
Skin cancer and melanoma treatment options
Your treatment plan will depend on the location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, your age, and your general health. Whatever treatment plan your physician specifies, you will have the resources of the Brown Cancer Center’s state-of-the-art technology and most advanced methods of treatment.
Treatment options may include one or a combination of the following:
Surgery to remove your tumor and some of the tissue around it can sometimes be performed. This procedure reduces the chance that the cancer will remain in your body. The type of surgery performed depends on the size and location of the tumor. Some tumors cannot be removed surgically, because of their size or location, and some patients cannot have surgery for other medical reasons.
Radiation therapy, which is also called radiotherapy, uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Before you undergo radiation, a radiation oncologist and physicist plan the precise delivery of the radiation to minimize radiation to your vital organs and maximize the radiation to the affected area. The James Graham Brown Cancer Center has the first nationally accredited radiation oncology program in Louisville.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. Chemotherapy may be recommended to kill any remaining cancer cells following surgery, or to control cancer growth and relieve symptoms. Most chemotherapy drugs are given intravenously or by catheter.
This uses naturally occurring substances found in the body that stimulate the immune system. This type of immunotherapy may be beneficial for patients with high-risk or advanced melanoma.
This is a combination of chemotherapy and biological therapy that may be beneficial for some patients with advanced melanoma.
Clinical trials and research
In addition to using the most advanced methods of diagnosis and treatment, the Brown Cancer Center is constantly examining new approaches to cancer treatment. Brown Cancer Center physicians participate in and initiate a wide range of ongoing clinical trials and research, giving you access to new therapies that may not yet be available in other parts of the world.
The Sunbelt Melanoma Trial is the world’s largest study of melanoma. This multi-center study involves 79 centers with more than 3,600 patients from around the United States and Canada. The study was conceived, written, and directed by physicians from the University of Louisville Department of Surgery. Brown Cancer Center physicians are also participating as co-investigators. While the study is still ongoing, the information gathered has already resulted in a number of leading-edge scientific articles.
If you have general questions about your condition, the Brown Cancer Center, or free services available to you and your loved ones, please contact the M. Krista Loyd Resource Center at 502.562.4158 or 866.530.5516.