INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – It's not the most prevalent types of skin cancer, but melanoma is the most dangerous type of the disease.
Melanoma accounts for just two percent of skin cancer cases but claims up to 13,000 American lives annually, according to the American Cancer Society. It develops in the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. But it also can be found in the eyes or the lining of some internal organs.
"Melanomas can occur on almost any area of the body, including areas that don't get much sun exposure, such as the soles of your feet, palms of your hands and fingernail beds," said Juliana Meyer, MD, melanoma surgeon with Franciscan Physician Network and director of the Melanoma Clinic at Franciscan Health Cancer Center Indianapolis. "Melanomas are usually black or brown in color but can be pink, red or purple."
People at risk of getting melanoma are those with fair skin, a history of sunburn, frequent exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning beds, and people who live at high elevations or close to the equator. Also, people with a family history of melanoma and those who have many moles are at higher risk.
Reducing the risks of the disease is paramount – and simple. Such measures include wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) year-round; avoiding sun exposure during the middle of the day; and wearing sun-protective clothing and sunglasses.
Self-monitoring of moles and other markings on the skin helps with early detection of the disease. A clinical diagnosis initially is made by the appearance on the skin, which can be confirmed with a biopsy.
To schedule a consultation or second opinion for a melanoma diagnosis, patients may call the Franciscan Health Indianapolis Melanoma Nurse Navigator at (317) 528-1420.
New Melanoma Treatment Options
Dr. Meyer has been at the forefront in using new treatment techniques for melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body. One such innovation is her use of videoscopic inguinal lymphadenectomy (VIL), which uses small incisions and laparoscopic equipment to remove cancerous lymph nodes in the groin.
"For certain melanoma patients, this is an effective procedure and offers many benefits over traditional invasive surgical therapy," said Dr. Meyer. "It reduces the risk of infection and leads to speedier recovery. In most cases, patients only have to stay overnight, often less time than had they undergone an open procedure."
Learn how VIL worked in one of Dr. Meyer's patient.
Dr. Meyer also is among the few specialists in Indiana to treat select patients who have melanomas that can’t be removed surgically. It's called Imylgic, a therapy that uses genetically modified material injected into tumors, which, in turn, directly attacks cancer cells.
"The therapy works over the course of two to four treatments, and one benefit is that it can be used time and time again with no lifetime limit, only a limit as to how much a patient can receive in one dose," Dr. Meyer said.
By Joe Stuteville
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