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Metastatic Melanoma

What Is Metastatic Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. When it spreads to other places in your body, it's called metastatic, or advanced, melanoma. It's also called stage IV melanoma.

Although in most cases it can't be cured, treatments and support can help you live longer and better. Doctors have new treatments for metastatic melanoma that have greatly increased survival rates. Also, researchers are working to find new medications that can do even more.

Remember: You still have control over the decisions you make about your treatment and your life. It's important to have people you can talk to about your plans, your fears, and your feelings. So seek support and learn about your treatment options. That will help you make the most of your life.

Melanoma often spreads to:

  • Tissue under the skin
  • Lymph nodes
  • Lungs
  • Liver
  • Brain
  • Bone

It can also spread to the spleen, digestive tract, heart, or adrenal glands.

Causes

In most cases, melanoma is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. The UV radiation damages the DNA of skin cells, and they start to grow out of control.

You can get melanoma on parts of your body that aren't exposed to sunlight, though, like the palms of your hands. Researchers think other risk factors are involved, but they aren't sure what all of them are.

 They do know you're more likely to get melanoma if you have:

  • Fair skin, along with lighter hair and eye color
  • Many moles or irregular moles (not beauty marks or small brown blemishes)
  • A family history of melanoma

Symptoms

If your melanoma has spread to other areas, you may have:

  • Hardened lumps under your skin
  • Swollen or painful lymph nodes
  • Trouble breathing, or a cough that doesn't go away
  • Swelling of your liver (under your lower right ribs) or loss of appetite
  • Bone pain or, less often, broken bones
  • Headaches, seizures, or weakness or numbness in your arms or legs
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Getting a Diagnosis

Before you have any tests, your doctor will want to know:

  • Why did you come in?
  • What have you noticed, and when?
  • How are you feeling?
  • Have you been diagnosed with melanoma before?
  • How was it treated?
  • Has anyone in your family had melanoma?
  • Have you ever used a tanning bed?
  • How many times have you had a sunburn?
  • Do you wear sunscreen? When? And what SPF?

If you haven’t already been diagnosed with melanoma, your doctor will do a skin exam. If the doctor thinks you may have skin cancer, you will need a biopsy to find out.

Doctors usually use one of two types of biopsies: a punch biopsy, which removes a round piece of skin, or an excisional biopsy, which removes the entire growth. A doctor will look at the growth under a microscope to see how thick it is. Usually, a thicker tumor means the cancer is more serious.

WebMD Medical Reference

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