If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, do not despair. Instead take action:
Step one: You will likely first need surgery to remove additional skin from around your melanoma lesion. Your surgeon may also remove lymph nodes to test them for melanoma cells. The tissues and lymph nodes will be tested to determine whether your disease has spread beyond the original lesion. Find a reputable surgical oncologist to perform your surgery. Depending on where your lesion is located, you may also want to have a cosmetic surgeon participate in your surgery.
Step two: You will need follow-up care after your surgery. Find the best oncologist specializing in this disease you possibly can. Researchers are making great progress toward finding treatments and a possible cure for melanoma. Find a doctor who knows about and participates in clinical research.
Step three: Assemble a support team. Find people who can go with you to doctors' and hospital appointments, help you do research, help field insurance and financial issues, and most of all provide you with moral support.
An important part of deciding how to best treat your melanoma is staging the disease. Staging determines how far the cancer has spread or metastasized, and may involve laboratory tests and imaging studies. Factors such as the thickness of the tumor, the presence or absence of ulceration, the number of lymph nodes containing melanoma, mitoses (active cells) within the tumor, and the degree of metastasis in the lymph nodes all help determine stage. Stages range from stage 0 to stage IV:
Stage 0 The tumor has not spread and is still limited to the outer layer of the skin.
Stage I The tumor is less than 1 millimeter thick and is or is not ulcerative; or is 1 to 2 millimeters thick and is not ulcerative.
Stage II The tumor has spread to the dermis (deep part of the skin), but has not reached the lymph nodes. In Stage IIA, the melanoma is 1 to 2 millimeters thick with ulceration or 2 to 4 millimeters thick with no ulceration. In Stage IIB, the tumor is 2 to 4 millimeters thick with ulceration or more than 4 millimeters thick with no ulceration. In Stage IIC, the tumor is more than 4 millimeters thick and ulcerative.
Stage III The tumor has spread to lymph nodes near the affected skin. In Stage IIIA, the tumor may have spread to as many as three lymph nodes, but the tumor in the lymph nodes can only be seen under a microscope. In Stage IIIB, the tumor has spread to as many as three lymph nodes or the tumor has not spread to the lymph nodes, but has produced satellite tumors. In Stage IIIC, the tumor has spread to four or more lymph nodes or has clinically evident positive lymph nodes.
Stage IV The tumor has spread to other organs, such as the lung, liver, brain or to lymph nodes far away from the original site.
Other important actions:
Be proactive. Do your own research. Find out about treatments and clinical trials.
Participate in your own treatment. Ask your doctor questions, including what treatment options are available, and evaluate treatment options with your own needs in mind. If you sense that your doctor is not listening to you or wants to impose treatments on you, find another one.
Focus on staying healthy. Researchers know that the immune system plays a significant role in melanoma. Keep your immune system strong by following a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Your immune system is weakened by stress and a melanoma diagnosis is inevitably going to bring stress along with it. Find ways to deal with stress. Practice yoga or meditation. If necessary, seek help from a therapist who specializes in working with cancer patients.
Stay positive. Continue to live your life. Include people in your support team who make you laugh. Always remember that you are more than your cancer.