Understanding melanoma skin cancer treatment options

There are numerous skin cancer treatment options available for attacking and killing melanoma skin cancer.

First, the results from your biopsy will provide your dermatologist basic information on how serious your specific melanoma is and this will guide the decisions for your treatment options.

The stage and location of the cancer will also determine the treatment options open to you.


Surgery is the main skin cancer treatment option for both Non-melanoma and melanoma. This can be as simple as removing a suspicious mole for biopsy, or as complex as the removal of local lymph nodes.

Simple Excision

Small tumors generally (smaller than 1/2 inch) can be removed during an outpatient surgery, if the cancer has not metastasized (spread), surgery may completely cure the disease.

Wide Excision

Surgery for larger melanoma tumors (larger than 1/2 inch) may require a wider excision, but can still allow for a primary closure of most wounds. Occasionally, a skin graft or more complex reconstruction is required to close the wound. My mother-in-law needed a skin graft to help minimize the scar from the removal of Squamous cell skin cancer.

In cases where the melanoma is known to have spread to the lymph nodes, the lymph nodes will most likely also be surgically removed.During surgery your doctor will remove the tumor along with some of surrounding skin in order to lower the risk of a recurrence. How much skin is removed along with the tumor depends on the tumor’s thickness, which also helps determine the stage of melanoma. If the melanoma is on the face, Mohs surgery may be used. But not all doctors agree on the use of Mohs for Melanoma.

You may need another biopsy, don't be alarmed, this is quite common.

Two Types of Biopsy Options:

Sentinel lymph node biopsy:

What is a sentinel lymph node (SLN)? The theory is, if cancer cell were to spread (metastasize), they would spread in an orderly fashion from the primary tumor to the sentinel lymph node(s) this is the first stop - then after that move on to other nearby lymph nodes.

What is SLN biopsy? The surgeon injects a radioactive substance,a blue dye, near the tumor. Then uses a scanner to find the sentinel lymph nodes stained with the blue dye. This sentinel lymph node is removed and examined under a microscope to determine whether cancer cells are present. The good news is, if the sentinel node is cancer-free, the remaining lymph nodes in that area should also be cancer-free.

SLN is very common in breast cancer diagnosis as well. My mother is also a breast cancer survivor.

Lymph node dissection:

If it is determined the sentinel node has cancer, then other nearby lymph nodes in the area will be removed to stop the disease from spreading any further.

The SLN biopsy is an important step in diagnosing melanoma. It is the most accurate way of finding out if and how far the melanoma may have spread. This helps your doctors select the best skin cancer treatment options are available to you. Remember, surgery is usually the only treatment needed for people with early-stage melanomas. Those with late stages of the disease may need additional therapy.

Additional Therapy:

Depending on the outcome of your biopsy (SLN) you may be sent to a medical oncologist. An oncologist is a doctor specializing in the treatment of cancer. You and your oncologist will work together to determine the best course of action for your case.

For most later-stage melanomas other treatments besides surgery may be needed. These are called adjuvant treatments.

Adjuvant Therapy is a form of therapy given when there is no clear evidence of a tumor, but it is reasonable to assume that cancer cells are present somewhere in your body.

The forms of Adjuvant Therapy are, immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is when chemicals such as interleukin and interferon are injected into the body. Also called biochemical therapy or biotherapy.


Interferons are proteins produced by your own immune system in response to an infection. Interferons work by "interfering" with the foreign invaders (bacteria or viruses) that may cause infection. Interferons can also prevent the growth and spread of other diseased cells, including some types of cancer cells.


Are special proteins released by the body's immune system to fight bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances. Interleukin plays vital role in "turning on" the body's immune system and to activate special defense cells called "T cells" and "natural killer (NK) cells," to attack and destroy invading germs, diseases and cancer cells.

Man-made version of interleukins are available. They help the immune system recognize and destroy certain types of melanoma. This treatment is only meant for patients with advanced melanoma (Stage IV) and has spread far beyond the original site, or to other organs (such as the lungs or liver). Immunotherapy is what my friend Lesly went through, and she has been cancer free for 14 years now!


The treatment of melanoma (or other disease) with chemicals that are toxic to the cancer cells. Chemotherapy is usually given only to patients whose melanoma has spread to many lymph nodes or to other organs in the body (Stage IV).

Radiation Therapy:

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This form of treatment is generally used for patients with advanced melanoma (Stage IV) that has spread to the brain, bones, or other organs.


If the melanoma is on the finger of toe, the skin cancer treatment option may mean amputation of all or part of the digit. Amputations of arms and legs used be done, but this very rarely used today.

Experimental Treatments:

Unfortunately, most people with very advanced melanoma (Stage IV) will not survive. These patients often enroll in clinical trials that test new and experimental treatments. There is no guarantee that an experimental treatment will be better than treatments already in use. A new treatment may also have unknown risks. But if a new treatment proves to be effective, patients in a clinical trial may be among the first people to benefit from it to learn more about clinical trials for experimental skin cancer treatment options specifically for melanoma, visit clinicaltrials.gov.

Alternative skin cancer treatment options:

Alternative skin cancer treatment options are those that are used instead of standard medical care. These treatments have not been proven safe or effective in clinical trials. Some of these methods may even be dangerous and some have life-threatening side effects. The biggest danger in most cases is that you may lose the chance to benefit from standard treatment. Delays or interruptions in your standard medical treatment may give the cancer more time to grow. Please discuss any of these treatment with your doctor, as they may interfere with with any therapy you may be undergoing.

Decisions about how to treat or manage your skin cancer are always yours. Be sure to learn about all the methods and talk with your doctor about it. With reliable information and the support of your health care team, you may be able to safely decide on the skin cancer treatment options that can help you while avoiding those that could be harmful.

For more information on basal cell skin cancer treatment options, visit our basal cell page:

For more information on Actinic Keratose skin cancer treatment options, visit our page on Efudex®:

Any information received on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure skin cancer. This site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace proper medical care. Always seek the advice of a trained health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before seeking any treatment. Proper medical attention should always be sought for specific ailments. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking medical treatment due to information obtained on sun-protection-and-products-guide.com.

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