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Skin Cancer (Melanoma)

​​​​​​​​Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer.

The cancer begins in skin cells called melanocytes which make melanin and give skin its color. Melanin helps to protect the deeper layers of the skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. 

Melanoma is formed when the skin receives excessive ultraviolet light, the melanocytes grow abnormally and form cancer.

Marshfield Clinic has cancer specialists who are experts in diagnosis and treatment of Melanoma and other skin cancers.

Treatments

Marshfield Clinic has a full complement of treatments for Melanoma including:

Surgery

Surgery is a common treatment for melanoma. In most cases melanoma can be treated successfully if the tumor site is removed while it is relatively thin. 

Typical surgeries include:

  • Wide Local Excision - surgical removal of the melanoma and additional tissue around the cancer site. The amount of tissue removed depends on the thickness of the tumor.
    Upon completion of the procedure, the remaining tissue is examined to confirm no cancer cells remain in the skin.
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy - doctors will often perform a procedure on the lymph nodes near a melanoma to determine if it spread.
    These "sentinel" lymph nodes are removed and if no cancer is detected, it is unlikely the cancer has spread. If the test is positive, the remaining lymph nodes are typically removed.
  • Metastatic Melanoma - if the melanoma has spread to distant organs, the physician will use CT or MRI scans to locate the metastasis and surgery may be possible to remove them.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. 

The medication will travel through the body and attack cancer cells that have spread from the initial melanoma site to the lymph nodes and other organs. Types of chemotherapy treatments include:

Immunotherapy

This form of treatment uses the body's immune system to fight cancer. It is generally used together with other cancer treatments, like radiation or chemotherapy, to improve treatment effectiveness or to decrease side effects.

  • Interferon alfa-2b has shown consistent reduction in melanoma recurrence. It is often used when the primary melanoma is located at a later stage or if the lymph nodes are involved with the disease.
  • Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is another immunotherapy used to treat melanoma. The treatment is used with patients whose cancer has spread beyond the scope of surgery.
    In some instances it will delay the reappearance of cancer and may increase the likelihood of long-term disappearance.

External Beam Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy​ is the use of high-energy X-rays or other particles to kill cancer cells like those found in melanoma. 

It is most commonly used on the skin when a patient's melanoma has come back or to relieve symptoms caused by melanoma that has spread, especially to areas like the brain, bones and lymph nodes. 

Specific therapies used by Marshfield Clinic include:

  • Gamma Knife™ - The Gamma Knife is not really a knife at all but a non-invasive treatment for patients with deep brain tumors and abnormal blood vessels in the brain. 
    A dose of gamma radiation is directed by highly sophisticated computer technology to the tumor site, sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. Gamma Knife™ surgery involves a team of medical experts from neurosurgery, radiation oncology and radiation physics.
    Marshfield Clinic physicians have access to one of the only Gamma Knife units in the state through Marshfield Medical Center.
    ​​​This technology enables our physicians the ability to treat patients with tumors who would not have been able to be treated with other technologies.
  • IMRT - Intensity Modulation Radiation Therapy (IMRT). This allows the radiation oncology team to: 
    • Customize a patient's treatment to the size, shape and location of the tumor.
    • Minimize the amount of healthy tissue that is exposed to radiation.
    • Treat tumors previously considered untreatable.
  • Tomotherapy - a form of IRMT radiation therapy that can be used for many tumors, including those that are hard to reach. Tomotherapy targets tumors using built-in CT scanning to confirm the shape and position of the tumor before each treatment.
  • IGRT - Image Guided Radiation Therapy combines scanning technology with radiation therapy to provide the most targeted treatment in the shortest time span.​
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