Early Diagnosis Is Important
The skin is the largest organ in the body. The incidence of melanoma is rising faster than any other type of cancer.
It's a disease that requires aggressive, skillful treatment, where success is measured in millimeters. Melanoma most often appears on the trunk of fair-skinned men and on the lower legs of fair-skinned women, but it can appear other places, too. While having dark skin lowers the risk of melanoma, it does not mean that a person with dark skin will never develop melanoma.
Our team of skin cancer specialists evaluate and treat patients with melanoma and other types of skin cancers. The team consists of dermatologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, plastic/reconstructive surgeons, physiotherapist, and nurses who all work together as they devise an individualized treatment plan for each patient.
Melanoma is almost always curable in its early stages.
Early Diagnosis Leads to Better Outcomes
It's important to check your own skin about once a month. You should know the pattern of moles, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you'll notice any changes. Adults older than 40 should have their skin checked by a health professional at least once a year, as well as during any other health exam.
The following are skin cancer detection procedures available at Northridge Hospital:
Skin Biopsy - If the doctor thinks you might have a melanoma, he or she will take a sample of the skin to look at under a microscope.
Sentinel Node Biopsy - If cancer is detected through a biopsy, the next step is to see if the skin cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Blood LDH Level - there are no specific blood tests to confirm skin cancer, but an elevated blood LDH enzyme level can indicate cancer cells are present.
Imaging - The following may be used to determine if the cancer has spread: MRI, Chest X-ray, PET/CT.
Dedicated to boosting cancer awareness, the Leavey Cancer Center hosts cancer education classes and outreach including a free skin damage assessment using DermaScan. DermaScan is a mirrored box in which a black light makes sun-damaged facial skin appear as purple blotches. The blotches are not necessarily skin cancer, but they represent areas of concern.
Progressive Treatment Options
Early stage skin cancer is usually treated with surgery. A sentinel node biopsy may be performed as well. Treatment for patients with advanced melanoma (that has spread to other parts of the body) may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, interferon therapy, biologic/immunotherapy and/or innovative therapies using new drugs to fight the disease.
Molecular Diagnostic testing is available for melanoma. Molecular profiling tests for a variety of biomarkers in the DNA of a tissue sample to help us better diagnose, stage and treat cancer on an individualized basis.
Types of Treatment for Non-melanoma
Often non-melanoma cancers can be completely cured by fairly minor surgery. Some can be cured by using medicine on the skin.
Curettage and Electrodessication
The cancer is removed by scraping it with a long, thin tool (called a curette) that looks something like a vegetable peeler. The area is treated with an electric needle to destroy any remaining cancer cells. The process is often done more than once.
In this treatment liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and kill cancer cells.
This newer approach uses a beam of light to kill cancer cells.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
This involves giving patients a chemical (either by applying it to the skin or injecting it into the blood), which collects in the tumor cells over the course of several hours or days.
Types of Surgery for Melanoma
Thin melanomas can be completely cured by numbing the skin and surgically removing the tumor.
If melanoma was confirmed by biopsy, the area will need to be removed again. More skin will be cut away from the area around the melanoma and the tissue will be looked at under a microscope to make sure that no cancer cells remain in the skin. If the cancer is on the face, a smaller amount of tissue may be removed. A technique called Mohs surgery may be used. In this approach, the cancer is removed layer by layer until the tissue shows no signs of cancer.
If the melanoma is on a finger or toe, the treatment may mean amputation.
Lymph Node Dissection
If the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes, the remaining nodes may have to be removed.
Chemotherapy for non-melanoma is usually used topically. Because this treatment only reaches cells near the surface of the skin, it is used most often for pre-cancers. Several types of chemo can be used for stage IV melanoma.
Although chemo does not usually work as well for melanoma as it does for some other types of cancer, it may relieve symptoms or extend the life of some patients with stage IV melanoma.
Other Treatment Options
For massage and wrapping of limb to help area to drain the lymphoedema.
Sentinel Lymph Node Mapping
Used to find the lymph nodes that drain lymph fluid from the area where the melanoma has developed.
Chemotherapy combined with an immune boosting therapy. Adjuvant therapies such as:
Interferon: Interferon-alpha can be used as an added (adjuvant) therapy after surgery to help prevent these cells from spreading and growing.
Vaccines: Weakened melanoma cells (or certain substances found in these cells) can be injected into a patient in an attempt to stimulate the body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells.
Cytokines: Boost the immune system.
Groundbreaking medical advances are the result of new ideas and approaches developed through clinical research. Northridge Hospital Medical Center remains on the forefront of the latest research developments by offering participation in clinical research. For information on cancer trials we are currently conducting, please call our Cancer Research Department (818) 885-5458.