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Melanoma: Diagnosis and Treatment


Melanoma is a cancer that arises from pigmented cells in your skin called melanocytes. Melanoma can develop in any place where melanocytes exist. It usually presents as a skin cancer, but it can also be found in other organs containing melanocytes, such as the eye and intestine.

Diagram: growth of melanoma over time

Growth of melanoma over time. In this diagram (click to enlarge), the cancer cells are depicted in brown. The first frame shows an early melanoma which is contained to the skin. In the second frame, the melanoma is extending to deeper tissues. The third frame shows the cancer invading critical structures and spreading to other parts of the body via lymphatics (green) and blood vessels (red).

Melanoma typically presents as an irregular or changing mole on your skin that is first removed for inspection by your dermatologist or primary care doctor. Treatment requires surgical removal of the cancer with adequate margins. This procedure is called a wide local excision. The tumor and the margins are then analyzed by a pathologist to determine the extent of disease.

Based on the pathology of the melanoma, your doctors may recommend a sentinel lymph node biopsy in addition to the wide local excision. The sentinel lymph node biopsy determines if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. The procedure uses two dyes to localize those lymph nodes that directly drain the skin cancer. Those lymph nodes are then surgically removed and tested for cancer cells. If cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, removal of the surrounding lymph nodes in that area may be recommended. This is called a lymph node dissection.

Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are small glands within the lymphatic system that detect and then react to harmful substances. They are located throughout the body. They contain immune cells that can respond to germs and thus help fight infection.

 

The lymphatic system

Isolated limb infusion or perfusion is a surgical procedure which delivers a very high dose of chemotherapy or anticancer drug to the local site of a tumor in the arm or leg. It is performed only in specific circumstances when the cancer cannot otherwise be surgically removed.

Our Approach

The Cutaneous Oncology Clinic at University of Colorado Hospital is designed to treat patients with known or suspected melanoma. We are committed to the comprehensive evaluation of patients by incorporating all the resources available for their diagnosis and treatment. Patients are evaluated and then their cases are discussed by a multidisciplinary team including pathologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgical oncologists, who represent some of the top melanoma clinicians and specialists in the country.

The University of Colorado Hospital has been recognized as a National Cancer Institute Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, thus meeting the rigorous criteria for delivering exemplary programs in multidisciplinary cancer research. At the Cutaneous Oncology Clinic, you will have access to ongoing clinical trials which offer new and promising therapeutic agents in the treatment of melanoma.

Call (720) 848-3532 to schedule an appointment.

Our Melanoma Surgeons

Click any of the names or photos below for information on our surgeons who specialize in the excision of melanoma.