, Volume 3, Issue 6, pp 401-426
Date: 22 Aug 2012

Current Concepts in the Management of Patients with Melanoma

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Abstract

Melanoma is a significant health problem. Despite public education and free cancer screenings, the incidence and mortality of melanoma continues to rise; however, many currently diagnosed melanomas are thin lesions, suggesting that education and awareness is having an impact. In addition, there are still subsets of patients who need increased surveillance in order to increase their survival.

Although large congenital nevi may be precursors of melanoma, small and medium congenital nevi have an insignificant risk for melanoma development. Large congenital nevi, which are axial in location, appear to be more likely to develop melanoma and are associated with melanocytosis and melanoma of the CNS, both of which portend a poor prognosis.

Recently, the recommended margins of excision have become more conservative so that many of the surgical defects can be closed primarily. Lymphoscintigraphy and sentinel node biopsy have replaced elective node dissections, thus decreasing the morbidity associated with the surgical management of melanoma. Although controversy still exists as to whether or not sentinel lymph node biopsy alters a patient’s prognosis, it has been shown to be a powerful prognostic indicator.

Although most melanomas are managed by routine surgical excision, other modalities are sometimes employed. For example, cryosurgery or radiation therapy may be indicated in the frail, elderly individual with a large facial lentigo maligna. Mohs surgery is the treatment of choice for head and neck melanomas and those located in areas where maximum preservation of tissue is required and for desmoplastic and acral lentiginous melanomas. Much more work remains in the area of adjuvant therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Dacarbazine remains the drug of choice in disseminated melanoma, but remissions are usually short lived. Interleukin and biochemotherapy has yielded good results but the percentage benefiting is small. Although high dose interferon increases disease-free and overall survival in some patients, it remains a controversial drug which is not easily tolerated.

In the new staging system for melanoma, ulceration is second only to Breslow’s thickness. In transit (satellite) lesions have also been included in this new system. The new system also recognizes that patients with only microscopic metastatic nodal disease fare better than patients with clinically enlarged metastatic nodes and that it is the number of nodes involved with metastases, not their size, that determines the patient’s prognosis. Except for lesions <1mm thick, the Clark’s level of invasion has been de-emphasized.