Thumbnail image of: Skin, Cross Section: Illustration

Cancer of the Skin (Melanoma)

What is cancer of the skin?

Melanoma is an uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells that starts in skin cells called melanocytes. It is a type of skin cancer. Melanocytes make melanin, the pigment that colors the skin, hair, and iris of the eye.

If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is still melanoma, and is called metastatic melanoma. The three most common types of skin cancer are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Of these three main types of skin cancer, melanoma is most likely to spread quickly and be more difficult to treat.

There are different types and stages of melanoma based on what kind of cancer cells are found, where the tumor started and where it has spread. Knowing your type and stage of melanoma helps your healthcare provider decide on the best treatment plan for you. It is important to diagnose and treat melanoma as soon as possible. The main goals of treatment are to kill the tumor cells, prevent cancer from spreading, and prevent metastatic cancer from spreading more than it already has.

The main risk factor for developing melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet light, which is the light that comes from the sun or tanning booths. You may also be at a higher risk for developing melanoma if you have a lighter skin tone, a problem with your immune system, have been exposed to certain chemicals, or have a family history of skin cancer.

What can I expect in the hospital?

You may need to stay in the hospital because you need surgery to treat melanoma or the cancer has spread and is causing other problems.

Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:

Monitoring

  • You will be checked often by the hospital staff.
  • Your fluid intake may be monitored closely by keeping track of everything you eat and drink and any IV fluids you receive.
  • Your fluid output may be monitored closely by keeping track of the amount of urine and bowel movements you produce.

Testing

Testing may include:

  • Blood, urine, or other tests to monitor how well your liver and other organs are functioning
  • Biopsy: A test in which all or part of the abnormal skin cells are removed and viewed under a microscope to check for cancer
  • Tests to check if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, including:
    • Blood tests to check for certain hormones, proteins, or chemicals that may be high if you have cancer.
    • Bone X-rays: Pictures of your bones to check for cancer
    • Bone scan: A series of detailed pictures that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. The scan shows any areas of bone where the radioactive material is being absorbed.
    • Chest X-ray: Pictures of the inside of your chest to check for cancer
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin cross sections of areas where the cancer may have spread
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin cross sections of areas where the cancer may have spread
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A series of detailed pictures that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. The scan shows areas where the radioactive material is being absorbed.

Treatment

The treatment for melanoma depends on your symptoms, how well you respond to treatment, your overall health, and any complications you may have. Your chance of cure depends on how far the cancer has advanced. You may need to make lifestyle changes to stay as healthy as possible.

  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.
  • Surgery is the main treatment for melanoma. Surgery involves removing all of the cancer cells and a small amount of tissue past the edge (border) of the abnormal cells. Your surgeon may also remove some lymph nodes in the area of the melanoma to see if the cancer has spread.
  • Treatments may include:
    • Biological therapy, which uses medicine designed to help your immune system fight the cancer or block the growth of cancer cells.
    • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells.
    • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine or other therapy to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Treat or prevent anemia, which means you have too few red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to your body. Anemia may be caused by your cancer, your treatment, or other problems.
    • Treat or prevent side effects, such as nausea or constipation, from other treatments
    • Help your immune system fight cancer

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Deep bone pain
    • Depression
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Redness, swelling, pain, warmth, or drainage from your surgical wound
    • Fever, chills, or muscle aches.
  • Ask questions about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on many factors. The average amount of time to stay in the hospital with melanoma is 4 days.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-19
Last reviewed: 2014-11-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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