Melanoma

Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that originates in the melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells

Although usually limited to the skin, it has the potential to spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Melanoma is highly curable if caught early, making timely detection and treatment crucial.

The Clinic

The University of Michigan Melanoma Clinic is one of the leading melanoma centers in the world and offers a comprehensive approach to the treatment of the melanoma. We see approximately 1,500 new patients per year in all stages of the disease.

Patients can schedule an appointment or be referred from their physician to the Clinic when they have diagnosed with melanoma through a biopsy.

Risk Factors

The American Cancer Society estimates there are nearly 120,000 new cases of melanoma every year in the U.S. Risk factors include sun exposure, being fair-skinned with blue or green eyes and blond or red hair, having many moles or atypical moles on the skin and having a personal or family history of melanoma. Melanomas can be limited to the epidermis or they can be invasive, meaning the cancer has grown into the deeper layers of the skin. The good news is the majority of cases are caught in the early stages, when the chances of a cure are high.

Treatment for Melanoma

All new patients who come to the clinic receive a complete evaluation and exam and are staged, counseled, and educated about melanoma. Our experts in dermatopathology review all biopsy slides of new patients and in 13% of cases, they will change the diagnosis.

Patients whose case requires multispecialty care are presented to the multidisciplinary skin cancer tumor board, made up of highly-trained and experienced specialists in skin cancers who develop consensus treatment recommendations. Many patients with melanoma require different specialty services initially and during the course of treatment, and our team approach ensures they are seen by the appropriate physician or physicians. Approximately 12.5% of patients seen in the Melanoma Clinic have a significant change in management plans based on our use of the most current guidelines and diagnostic aides. Surgery is the main treatment option for melanoma removal. Each surgery is different and depends on individual factors, including the size, depth, and location of the cancer, as well as the overall health of the patient. Superficial melanomas - the thinnest and most shallow lesions - are removed by surgical excision, on an outpatient basis, using a local anesthetic. The success rate is very high, while the risk of recurrence is very low.

As melanoma invades the skin more deeply, the risk of the disease spreading to a lymph node increases. In those cases, at the time of surgical removal of the melanoma, our surgeons will also remove one or two lymph nodes. This is known as sentinel lymph node biopsy, which looks for cancer that has spread beyond the original area to nearby lymph nodes. The procedure involving both removal of the melanoma and sentinel lymph node biopsy is done in the operating room, on an outpatient basis, under general anesthesia. If the lymph node biopsy comes back negative, usually you will not require further treatment. If it is positive, you will likely need more surgery to remove the remaining cancerous lymph nodes.

The Melanoma Clinic works closely with the patient, family and their referring doctors to minimize trips to U-M and coordinate follow-up care close to home.

Children and young adults diagnosed with melanoma are treated in C. S. Mott Children's Hospital. Please visit Pediatric Melanoma for information and how to schedule an appointment.

Support

As part of the Comprehensive Cancer Center patients have access to the Patient Support Services. These services are available to patients, their families and caregivers as a resource to help during treatment and afterwards.

Make an appointment, referral or have questions answered

To make a first-time appointment or have questions, please call the Patient Care Center at 1-800-865-1125 and talk with one of our oncology nurses. If you would like to refer a patient, please contact M-LINE at 800-962-3555. For more information, visit our Make an Appointment web page.

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