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Bright Future for Melanoma Patients: July 15, 2014

The bright spot when it comes to melanoma is the success in treating it, provided it’s caught early.

“If melanoma gets picked up early, usually a surgery is all you need,” says Dr. Frank Rodriguez, an oncologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

The most deadly form of skin cancer, the risk of dying from it is 70% lower in people who have regular doctor visits. The logic being they are more likely to pick up on an irregular mole when it is most treatable.

“Once a diagnosis is made, either a general surgeon or sometimes a dermatologist needs to cut it out. And they need to cut it out with a healthy line of tissue around it to make sure that there’s nothing left behind,” says Dr. Rodriguez.

General recommendations call for a biopsy of the sentinel node. It’s the most likely lymph node which collects what drains from that particular part of skin. The hope is the cancer hasn’t left its original site.

“It can spread to either other parts of the skin, it can spread to the lymph nodes but it can also go to the lungs, it can go to the brain,” says Dr. Rodriguez. “Melanoma’s one of those tumors that can progress very, very rapidly.”

A host of new drugs and treatments are extending the lives of advanced melanoma patients, including a drug called Vervoy that improves the body’s ability to target and attack melanoma cells.

“It really gets the immune system going and once that immune system is fired up like that, it can find any circulating melanoma cells and try to destroy them,” says Dr. Rodriguez.

Still deadly and dangerous, early detection and better treatments are creating a brighter future for people with melanoma.