SKIN CANCER, MALIGNANT MELANOMA
DESCRIPTIONA malignant melanoma is a skin cancer that spreads to other areas of the body, primarily the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, and central nervous system. Most melanomas begin in a mole or other pre-existing skin lesion. Excessive exposure to sun is a major factor in causing malignant melanoma. It usually affects the skin of the head, neck, legs, or back, but rarely occurs in the eye, mouth, vagina, or anus. Melanomas are more likely to occur in adults, but some affect children. The incidence of melanomas has increased since 1970.
Appropriate health care includes:
Surgery to remove suspicious skin lesions or to remove nearby lymph glands if the child's tumor has spread.
Hospitalization for radiation treatment and chemotherapy, if the child's tumor has spread.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
A flat or slightly raised skin lesion that can be black, brown, blue, red, white, or a mixture of all colors. Its borders are often irregular and may bleed.
Uncontrolled growth of cells that give skin its brownish color (melanocytes). When the cells grow down into deep skin layers, they invade the child's blood vessels and lymph vessels and are spread to other body areas.
RISK FACTORSMoles on the child's skin.
Excessive sun exposure.
Genetic factors. This is most common in light-complexioned, blond people, and is rare in black people.
Radiation treatment or excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, as with sun lamps.
The following factors increase the likelihood of developing a melanoma:
PREVENTING COMPLICATIONS OR RECURRENCEInstructions for a child in a high-risk group:
Protect yourself from excessive sun exposure. Wear broad-rimmed hats and protective clothing. Use maximum protection sun-block preparations on exposed skin.
Examine your skin, including genitals and soles of the feet, regularly for changes in pigmented areas. Ask a family member to examine your back. See your doctor about any skin area (especially brown or black) that becomes multicolored, develops irregular edges or surfaces, bleeds, or changes in any way.
Your own observation of symptoms.
Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
Biopsy of suspicious lesions. The melanoma's depth must be established to determine appropriate treatment.
POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONSFatal spread to the child's lungs, liver, brain, or other internal organs.
Varies greatly. Early melanomas that have not grown downward are curable with surgical removal. Once a child's tumor has spread to distant organs, this condition is currently considered incurable. However, symptoms can be relieved or controlled. Scientific research into causes and treatment continues, so there is hope for increasingly effective treatment and cure.
HOME CARENo specific instructions except those listed under other headings.
MEDICATIONYour doctor may prescribe anti-cancer drugs.
See Medications section for information regarding medicines your doctor may prescribe.
DIET & FLUIDS
No special diet.
OK TO GO TO SCHOOL?Yes, when condition and sense of well-being will allow.
CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF
Your child has a skin lesion with any characteristics of a malignant melanoma.
During treatment, changes occur in another skin area on the child.
New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.