Melanoma is a relatively rare but aggressive type of skin cancer. If it's caught early, it's highly treatable. But it can be hard to treat once it has spread.
Because melanoma is most treatable when it's caught early, it's important to watch for signs that you may have it. Here's what to look for:
Where it Appears
Melanoma can appear anywhere on the skin, nail beds, anus or genitalia. It's more likely to appear in different areas of the body depending on your gender and skin color:
- In women, it often appears on the torso or legs
- In men, it often appears on the torso or the upper back
- In people with darker skin, it often appears on the palms, nail beds, soles of the feet, anus or genitalia
What it Looks Like
Melanoma varies in appearance:
- Melanomas can look like a new or changing spot, bump, patch or freckle
- They can be round or asymmetrical
- They're often brown or black but can also be red, pink, tan or white
- They often start small and grow larger
Melanoma Diagnosis at Rush
To determine whether you have melanoma — and, if so, what kind you have — your provider will take these steps:
- They'll start by examining your skin surface, nails, anus and genitalia
- If they find suspicious marks (also called lesions), they'll take a biopsy (a small tissue sample)
- If the biopsy reveals melanoma, they may test do genetic tests that can help determine the best course of treatment
Melanoma Treatment at Rush
At Rush, you'll have access to a team of providers that may include dermatologists, medical oncologists and others. They'll work together, and with you, to determine the best course of treatment.
Depending on where your melanoma appears and how early it's diagnosed, your treatment may involve one or more of the following:
- Surgery to remove the melanoma: This is the primary treatment for melanoma at any stage. A dermatologist or a surgeon will remove the melanoma and some of the healthy tissue that surrounds it.
- Immunotherapy: This type of treatment activates your immune system to help fight melanoma. It can prolong survival in people with advanced (metastatic) melanoma.
- Targeted therapy: This type of treatment combines medicine with other substances that help the medicines precisely target cancer cells. It can prolong survival in people with advanced (metastatic) melanoma.
- Chemotherapy: Cancer-fighting drugs are typically used to fight melanomas that have spread. Rush offers isolated limb infusion (ILI), a procedure that delivers chemotherapy only to an affected limb. This spares the rest of the body from the side effects of chemotherapy.
- Radiation therapy: Specialists at Rush sometimes use radiation therapy to relieve symptoms of melanoma that has spread to the bones or brain.
- Complementary therapies: Rush offers acupuncture, massage and other complementary therapies can reduce stress, anxiety and the side effects of cancer treatment.
Rush Excellence in Melanoma Care
- Nationally recognized expertise: U.S. News & World Report has ranked Rush University Medical Center among the nation's top 50 hospitals for cancer care.
- Melanoma innovation and research: Researchers at Rush continue to search for new melanoma treatments. Through clinical trials, they can offer access to options that are not yet widely available.
- Improved outcomes for metastatic melanoma: Melanoma experts at Rush have been involved in research that has improved life expectancies for people with metastatic melanoma. Six years ago, people lived an average of nine months after being diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. Now, with specific combinations of targeted therapy or immunotherapy, more than 80% of people live a year or more.
- Leading-edge treatments: Rush is one of few health systems to offer isolated limb infusion (ILI), an innovative procedure. ILI delivers chemotherapy directly to a limb affected by melanoma while sparing the rest of the body from chemotherapy's toxicity.
- Convenient care close to home: After recovering from melanoma, you'll need regular follow-up care to detect any recurrence as early as possible. To make follow-up care convenient, Rush dermatologists offer care at locations across the Chicago area.