According to Cancer Research UK, there were 14,509 new cases of malignant melanoma in 2013 in the United Kingdom. These rates have been increasing since the 1970s and UK malignant melanoma incidence rates are estimated to be the ninth highest in males in Europe and seventh highest in females. With the ever-increasing risk of melanoma and the advancements in research and technology, it’s important to understand what the treatment options are.
The British Association of Dermatologists list the state of the main treatment options presently available in the UK.
Read more: What is melanoma?
Removal by surgery
Most melanomas can be treated by surgery to remove the cancerous cells and growth. This treatment usually cures melanomas that are in the early stages. After a melanoma is diagnosed through a skin biopsy, a doctor will numb the area of the skin around the melanoma with a local anaesthesia and cut out the tumor. In most cases, people will need no further treatments. If the cancer has already metastasized throughout the body, surgery may be used to remove tumors or lymph glands more as a way to control the cancer rather than to cure it. In these stages, surgery will often be used in combination with other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.
Radiotherapy kills cancer cells with high-energy light rays. It is not considered a particularly helpful form of treatment for melanoma in the UK and is normally used only in areas where surgery is not an option or as a form of palliative care, to minimize tumors or help control symptoms.
To prevent melanomas from returning, many people will need another surgery at the original site of the melanoma. These surgeries are typically “wide-excision” surgeries. Wide-excision surgeries are not very different from the original removal surgery except that this time a wider margin is taken around the melanoma site, removing some healthy skin in the process. This ensures that all of the cancerous cells have been removed and reduces the risk of the cancer growing back. In some cases, if it is a particularly large melanoma, a skin graft may be needed to cover the wound.
Sentinel node biopsy
A sentinel node biopsy is the removal of a small piece of a “sentinel” lymph node. According to the Mayo Clinic, the sentinel nodes are the first few lymph nodes into which a tumor drains. This treatment is usually performed as an additional procedure when a melanoma is being removed. It is mainly used as a way of determining if the melanoma has spread beyond the original tumor site and into the lymph nodes. It is considered a non-essential treatment in the UK and is only used in a small number of clinics, often for research purposes. According to Cancer Research UK, this is mainly because there is no good evidence that people who have sentinel node biopsy live longer than those who don’t have it.