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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Understanding Skin Cancer -- Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Treatments for Skin Cancer? continued...

Melanoma tumors must be removed surgically, preferably before they spread beyond the skin into other organs. The surgeon removes the tumor fully, along with a safe margin of surrounding tissue and possibly nearby lymph nodes. Neither radiation nor chemotherapy will cure advanced melanoma, but either treatment may slow the disease and relieve symptoms. Chemotherapy, sometimes in combination with immunotherapy -- such as interferon, interleukin-2 -- is generally preferred. If melanoma spreads to the brain, radiation is used to slow the growth and control symptoms.

Immunotherapy is a field of cancer treatment that attempts to target and kill cancer cells by manipulating the body's immune system. Some of the most promising developments in the field of immunotherapy have arisen from efforts to cure advanced melanoma. Some researchers are treating advanced cases with vaccines, while others are using drugs such as interferon, interleukin-2, and ipilimumab (Yervoy) in an effort to stimulate immune cells into attacking melanoma cells more aggressively. In patients with advanced melanoma, two drugs, nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) have been found to be effective after use of ipilimumab. These drugs help block proteins on T cells that normally help keep them in check, therefore allowing these immune cells to attack melanoma cells. Genetic manipulation of melanoma tumors may make them more vulnerable to attack by the immune system. Each of these treatment approaches aims to immunize a patient's body against its own cancer -- something the body cannot do naturally.

There are other drugs that target specific genes within normal cells that cause them to become cancerous. Called targeted therapy, these drugs include dabrafenib (Tafinlar), trametinib (Mekinist) and vemurafenib (Zelboraf).

People who have had skin cancer once are at risk for getting it again. Anyone who has been treated for skin cancer of any kind should have a checkup at least twice a year. About 20% of skin cancer patients experience recurrence or a second separate tumor, often within the first two years after diagnosis.

Alternative and Complementary Therapies for Skin Cancer

Once skin cancer is diagnosed, the only acceptable treatment is medical care. Alternative approaches may be useful in cancer prevention and in combating nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches from chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy used to treat advanced skin cancer. Be sure to discuss any alternative treatments you are considering using with your cancer doctor.

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