Dealing with melanoma is difficult, but to find out it has spread to other areas of the body is emotionally devastating. You might feel like throwing in the towel and calling it quits. No matter how dire the circumstances, new ways of treating cancer have emerged in recent years that can increase your survival rate significantly.
Understanding What is Metastatic Melanoma
Melanoma is the most severe and aggressive form of skin cancer. If you are wondering what is metastatic melanoma? It is when cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the brain, bones, liver, or become lung cancer. They classify melanoma in stages that give you an idea of the survival outcome. Stage four is the worst form.
What is Metastatic Melanoma Symptoms?
Even if you have had your cancer spot surgically excised, there is still the danger of spread. You must always be on your toes and alert to metastatic melanoma symptoms. The symptoms will usually depend on the organ infected with cancer.
The signs of spread include:
Hard lumps that might show swollen lymph nodes or other tissue tumors beneath the skin’s surface. The lumps may or may not be painful when palpitated.
- Persistent cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Enlarged liver
- Weight loss
- Bone pain
- Broken bones
- Memory loss
- Signs of early dementia
- Changes in personality
The Reality of Metastatic Melanoma Prognosis
There is no crystal ball to foretell a person’s lifespan. Metastatic melanoma is an acute diagnosis.
Research has shown that once cancer spreads throughout the body, the prognosis is dismal.
Here is a breakdown metastatic melanoma prognosis.
- If cancer spreads to the nodes or gastrointestinal system, the median survival held at 12.5 months and the five-year survival is 14 percent.
- Lung cancer (pulmonary) has a median of only 8.3 months with a five-year survival rate of 4 percent.
- Spread to the brain, liver or bone has only a 4.4-month survival rate with only 3 percent living five years.
Options for Metastatic Melanoma Treatment
In the last couple of years, new treatments have emerged that are offering hope. They show the ability to often extend life a year or two. Sometimes, patients have achieved complete remission. In 1998, the immune therapy high-dose interleukin-2 (IL-2) gained FDA approval. The therapy helps four percent gain a cure, but can be fatal for one out of 50 sufferers.
The US FDA has approved two drugs for stage 4 melanoma.: Dacarbazine (DTIC) gained approve in 1975 and remains the only chemo drug approved to treat advanced cancer. DTIC causes one in eight tumors to shrink but does not extend survival rate. Luckily, in the last decade new and promising therapies have emerged. They offer impressive tumor shrinkage and remission. Recently, an immune regulating molecule becomes available. It is known as cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen-4 (CTLA-4). The molecule kick starts the immune system. This impressive discovery led to the development of “anti-CTLA-4” referred to as ipilimumab (Yervoy), The immune protein can effectively and effortlessly bind to CTLA-4 rendering it unable to function. The immune system can then identify cancer and kill it. The drug appears to help people live 34 percent longer. Combining Yervoy with dacarbazine gained even more longevity. Without a doubt, drugs to treat advanced melanoma are advancing.
What is Uveal Melanoma?
Uveal melanoma is a primary intraocular cancer that occurs in adults. It is extremely rare. Some occur in the iris, others the ciliary body, and the choroid (ciliochoroidal). Caucasians and those of European descent are the most at risk. Smoking and UV light also increases incidences. Welders and those who have used L-dopa also face an increased risk. Other associations include BRCA-associated protein-1 (BAP-1), dysplastic nevus syndrome, neurofibromatosis, and melanosis oculi. The rate of metastatic spread is very high with over 50 percent suffering spread to some other body part. Sadly, once cancer spreads survival averages only six to 12 months. In trials, patients have responded to the use of MEK inhibitor selumetinib.
Yervoy to Treat Metastatic Melanoma
Many in the science and research community are heralding Yervoy as an outstanding treatment that is helping people extend their lifespan.
However, the drug is not without side effects, some of which are serious.
- Colitis that causes perforation of the gastrointestinal lining.
- Diarrhea with mucus or blood
- Stomach pain and tenderness
- Liver failure
- Decreased energy
- Sores in mouth
- Skin blisters
- Peeling skin
- Weakness in the arms, face, or legs
- Pituitary, adrenal, and thyroid gland problems.
- Weight gain
- Sensitivity to cold
- Decreases sex drive
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in ankles
- Bloody urine
- Memory problems
- Blurry vision
- Double vision
- Eye pain
Diagnosis of metastatic melanoma is devastating. If standard treatments prove ineffective, then clinical trials remain a viable option which might hold the promise of gaining longevity while helping contribute to medical knowledge for future sufferers. You can talk to your doctor about trials you may qualify to participate in or you can research the various trials taking place around the world. Many are having great success and making headway at improved drug development.
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