Melanoma is one of the most common forms of cancer, and its numbers are on the rise. Unlike many other types of cancer, it does not appear more commonly in a certain gender, age group or race: roughly 75,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year, and of that number just under 10,000 will die. Among young adults between the ages of 25 and 29, melanoma is the cancer that is most frequently seen, and it is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in the age group ranging from 15 to 29.
The fact that it is so common does not mean that it is not to be taken seriously: of all the skin cancers it is the most serious type. If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, that means that you have already gone through the discovery process – you’ve feared that something was wrong, whether because you spotted a lesion on your own or because somebody else took note and indicated that you should have a biopsy. And you’ve also already gone through diagnosis. So, now what? You need to be treated, and you need to recover.
The amount of treatment that you will need for your melanoma is dependent upon how advanced your disease state is. To get a good idea of what lays ahead, it is a good idea to ask your physician some pointed questions. Even if they have already gone through a lot of these details, it’s okay to ask again, either by telephone or by making an additional appointment. Many patients who are first diagnosed with cancer get caught up in the emotion or uncertainty of the moment and lose focus of the important information that they’ve been given. Make sure that you write down the answers so that you can refer back later. Here are some questions you can ask your doctor about melanoma.
Melanoma’s seriousness and spread is best determined by diagnostic tests, so even though you have already undergone a biopsy there is a good chance that you will need to undergo more testing to determine how far advanced it is. This may be done via laboratory blood work, a biopsy of the sentinel lymph nodes, or imaging studies such as an MRI, PET Scan, CT Scan or Bone Scan. It is important to know the extent of the disease, as it will determine what the best course of treatment is for your condition.
Doctors will look at how deep and thick the tumor is, what its condition is and whether it is ulcerated or cracked, and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. There are a number of different staging possibilities, with Stage IA meaning that the tumor is less than 1 millimeter thick and is not ulcerated and has not spread, to Stage IV, which means that it has spread to the lymph nodes, other organs, or far from the original tumor site. This is the most advanced stage and requires the most aggressive treatment.
There are several different treatment options available, including:
There are a number of steps you can take to make your diagnosis and treatment easier to handle. One of the top things you need to do is get yourself organized. Keep some kind of journal in which you can take note of details from the first few meetings. This will give you a chance to carefully review at your own leisure the host of complicated options that are being made available to you. It is also important to monitor your own mood and mental health. A melanoma diagnosis can be stressful, and it is essential that you seek professional help if you begin to feel overwhelmed.
There is no single best treatment for melanoma, so if you are not entirely confident with the recommendation that your physician makes, take the time to seek out a second opinion from another doctor. Though it is important not to procrastinate treatment, it is equally important that you are comfortable with the decision that you make about which treatment is most appropriate for your needs.
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