Stage IV Melanoma
What do I need to know?
Stage IV melanoma, or metastatic melanoma, means that melanoma cells have spread to other organs in the body, or areas far from the original site of the tumor. The lungs, liver and brain are areas in the body where melanoma tends to spread most often.
Treating Stage IV Melanoma
Prior to 2011, no drug had ever been shown to extend life for patients with metastatic melanoma. Thirteen years passed with no new approved treatments. Since then, the melanoma community has seen an astonishing number of treatment advances.
Immunotherapy - Immunotherapy is a type of systemic treatment - treating the whole body - and attempts to activate a person's immune system so that it will destroy melanoma cells. It is prescribed and administered by a medical oncologist. Several FDA-approved immunotherapy options now exist for Stage IV melanoma patients.
Targeted therapy - Targeted therapy is a form of treatment designed to interfere with the specific proteins that are driving the growth and spread of the tumor. Because they are "targeted" to the tumor, these therapies may be more effective and associated with fewer side effects compared to some other therapies. A targeted therapy approach allows patients to receive a somewhat personalized treatment since the drugs are based on the unique genetic profile, or subtype, of their tumor.
Radiation - Radiation is most often used as a symptom-relieving therapy in patients whose melanoma has spread to the brain or bones. In these situations, it would be used to make the patient more comfortable.
Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is not often used in the treatment of melanoma. Although it is an FDA-approved treatment, research has shown limited overall survival benefits with this type of treatment.
Clinical trials - Clinical trials offer access to drugs or combinations of drugs that are not yet approved by the FDA. Many experts believe these drugs offer great promise in lower the risk of recurrence for Stage III patients. As with any treatment decision, enrolling in a trial is a personal decision and many factors should be considered.
Some people worry that doctors will be offended if they ask for a second opinion. However, most doctors welcome a second opinion and many health insurance companies will even pay for them. A second opinion may provide you with more information and, perhaps, a greater sense of control.
Managing Side Effects
Side effects are a reality of every melanoma treatment option. Side effects vary by treatment and by individual. Some patients may experience many side effects, while others experience a few, or sometimes no side effects from their treatment.
ALL SIDE EFFECTS SHOULD BE REPORTED TO YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY. Many patients think that reporting side effects will cause their doctors to take them off that treatment. Reporting all side effects as soon as you begin experiencing them will help in the management of the side effects and, in most cases, will allow you to stay on treatment longer.