Your skin is made up of layers. The outermost layer is called the epidermis, and it’s where melanoma happens.
Let’s start with the most basic anatomy: your skin. Your skin is made up of three layers, and melanoma happens in the outermost layer, called the epidermis. The outermost layer is made up of cells called melanocytes. These are the cells that produce melanin, which gives your skin its color. When a particular melanocyte dies, new ones take its place and continue making pigment for your skin.
Melanoma starts in your skin.
You may have heard that melanoma starts in your skin, but what does that mean? What makes your skin so special? Your skin is actually made up of three different layers. The one we’ll focus on for now is the skin’s outermost layer, known as the epidermis. (The epidermis is really where all the action takes place.)
The epidermis is divided into layers and contains many types of cells—including keratinocytes, which produce a protein called keratin and make up most of the epidermal cells; melanocytes, which make melanin and give your skin its color; Langerhans cells, which are part of the immune system; and Merkel cells, also involved in touch sensation.
What are the symptoms of melanoma
Oddly shaped moles, new moles, or changes to existing moles are the most common melanoma symptoms. If you notice any of the following in your skin, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist right away:
- A mole that looks different from other moles on your body
- A spot on your skin that has changed in shape, size, color, or feel
- An area that appears after being wounded and doesn’t heal within three months
What are the treatments for melanoma
The type of treatment your doctor recommends depends on the stage of the melanoma and on your overall health.
- Stage 1 melanoma (the cancer is small and has not grown deep into the skin) may be treated with one or a combination of the following:
- Wide excisional surgery to remove the tumor, along with some normal tissue around it to ensure that all of the cancer cells are removed. If a sentinel lymph node biopsy was done, it may also be part of this surgery. A pathologist will examine tissue from both parts of this surgery for signs that any cancer cells remain.
- If there is still a risk that some cancer cells remain in or near where you had surgery, you might get radiation therapy or immunotherapy after your surgery to help prevent it from coming back. Be sure to ask your doctor whether these treatments are needed for you.
- Stage 2 melanoma (the tumor is more than 1 millimeter thick and may have started growing into nearby lymph nodes) can be treated with either wide excisional surgery followed by sentinel lymph node biopsy or by pre-operative chemotherapy followed by wide excisional surgery as well as sentinel lymph node biopsy. Radiation therapy might also be used after these surgeries. Immune checkpoint inhibitors have shown promise in treating people with stage 3B and 3C melanoma as well as stage 4 melanoma, which has spread throughout the body and cannot be removed through surgery
why you should consider a clinical trial enrollment for melanoma
Cancer immunotherapy clinical trials can offer a way to increase your treatment options and get access to brand new treatments that are not yet available outside of a trial. And, as with all FDA-approved cancer treatments, you will be monitored for side effects as part of the trial.
Here’s why you should consider enrolling in a clinical trial:
- You might have already tried a number of other treatments that haven’t worked.
- Clinical trials let you play an active role in your own health care. Your doctors may need to monitor how well you are doing more often than they would outside of a clinical trial.
- If the effectiveness of the treatment is shown through research, it may lead to new, life-saving breakthroughs for patients all over the world!