What is Melanoma?
Skin cancer is not an especially common form of cancer. However, melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer. In fact, melanoma accounts for more deaths than all other forms of skin cancer combined.
Melanoma originates in the melanocytes, the cells that produce the skin pigment called melanin. Although people with dark skin have more melanin, it is actually those with light skin who have the highest risk of melanoma.
How Prevalent is Melanoma?
Approximately a quarter of a million people worldwide are diagnosed with melanoma every year, and about 60,000 people die of the disease. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and Scandinavian nations have the highest rates of melanoma.
What are the Risk Factors for Melanoma?
Researchers estimate that over 85% of melanoma cases can be attributed to ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. In other words, melanoma is often caused by excessive sunlight. Other risk factors include:
- Having fair, light-colored skin
- Having a large number of moles on the skin
- Repeated sunburns increase the risk for melanoma.
- Melanoma appears to affect men more often than women.
- People over the age of 55 are more likely to develop melanoma, although this disease can certainly affect the young as well.
What are the Symptoms of Melanoma?
Melanoma symptoms are not always obvious to casual inspection. The signs include:
- Non-healing sores
- New moles that change characteristics
- Moles that have irregular borders, asymmetric shapes, differing colors throughout the mole, and large moles
If you notice any suspicious mole or lesion, it is crucial that you consult a dermatologist right away.
What are the Stages of Melanoma?
Like many cancers, melanoma is staged based on how extensively the disease has spread:
Stage 0 – also known as melanoma in situ – This is extremely early melanoma that is limited to the epidermis, the topmost layer of the skin.
Stage 1 – The disease is still confined to the skin, but the melanoma has become as thick as 1 mm.
Stage 2 – The melanoma has not yet spread from the skin, but it now may be as thick as 4 mm. Furthermore, the skin in this area may be ulcerated.
Stage 3 – At this stage, the cancer has spread over a significant area of the skin or to a nearby lymph node.
Stage 4 – This stage indicates distant metastases. In other words, the melanoma has traveled to an area distant from the source such as a lymph node, organ, or new skin area.
What is the Treatment for Melanoma?
Depending on the stage of cancer and the unique circumstances of the patient, melanoma treatment may consist of surgical excision, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these approaches.
Sheba Medical Center is the home of the Ella Lemelbaum Institute for Immuno-Oncology, a world-class facility for melanoma treatment. Here, melanoma patients receive tailor-made medicine in the fight against melanoma. Our multidisciplinary team of dermatologists, surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and support staff take a holistic approach to determine the best course of action.
For small patches of melanoma in the early stages, this course of action may be simple surgical excision. Larger melanomas may require surgical removal along with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. However, patients with advanced or recalcitrant melanoma may benefit from one of our most cutting-edge treatments – tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy.
This treatment uses the patient’s own immune system’s elite cancer-killing lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells. The lymphocytes are extracted from the patient and grown to very large numbers in our advanced laboratory. Then the lymphocytes are reintroduced into the patient’s body, where they hunt down tumor cells.
Fecal microbiota transplant
A gut microbiome is the totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, and their collective genetic material present in each person’s gastrointestinal tract. Recently, scientists discovered that the microbiome works closely with the immune system so that a change in the flora of the bacteria has an effect on the body’s immune response to many health conditions, including treatments for oncological diseases. By eradicating the microbiota of a melanoma patient who is unresponsive to immunotherapies and replacing it with bacteria taken from melanoma patients who have responded to the treatment, through the use of a fecal transplantation, this procedure can significantly improve a patient’s body’s responsiveness to immunotherapy.
The innovative Immunophoresis approach uses a special filter to remove specific immune-suppressive cytokines produced by cancer tumors. Selective removal of these targeted cytokines is intended to neutralize the cancer’s ability to block natural immune defense mechanisms, which are significantly compromised during late-stage, metastatic cancer. In this manner, the treatment re-energizes the immune system to aggressively fight the malignancy. An added benefit lies in the relative lack of side effects or detrimental impact on quality of life typical of other cancer treatments.
Sheba Medical Center – World-Class Medicine with a Personal Touch
At Sheba, we treat the entire person not just the disease. You can be assured of caring treatment no matter the stage of your melanoma. We provide not only melanoma therapies but also psychosocial support and reconstructive plastic surgery services after your cancer has been removed. In this way, we demonstrate our commitment to 360 degrees of service to each of our patients.
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