Melanoma, also called malignant melanoma, is a type of skin cancer that starts in the body’s pigment-producing cells, called melanocytes. Sun exposure is a major contributor to melanoma, but the disease isn’t confined to skin that’s exposed to the sun.
UT Southwestern Medical Center’s skin cancer specialists have unparalleled depth and breadth of knowledge about melanoma and offer the latest treatment methods. We take an individualized approach to care and tailor treatment to you and your cancer, taking into account your overall health, goals, and preferences, as well as other patient-specific factors.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Melanoma is classified in a few different ways, and we treat all of these types:
- Cutaneous melanoma occurs on the skin and is the most common type of melanoma
- Mucosal melanoma is a rare form of melanoma that occurs in the mucous membranes, such as the nasal passages, throat, vagina, anus or mouth
- Ocular melanoma (or uveal melanoma) is a rare form of melanoma that occurs in the eye
- Metastatic melanoma is a term used for melanoma that has spread beyond the original site to the lymph nodes or to distant organs
Early detection of melanoma is critical. You should perform a self skin examination every month and visit a dermatologist at least once a year. During self skin exams, check your entire body thoroughly for any moles or discolorations that look new or different. Keep an eye out for:
- A new spot or one that has changed
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- A painful, itchy, tender, or bleeding spot
- A spot or lump that looks shiny, waxy, smooth, or pale
- A firm red lump that bleeds or appears crusty
- A flat, red spot that is rough or scaly
When you visit the dermatologist, if he or she finds a mole or other spot that looks like melanoma, the dermatologist will remove all of it or part of it (called a biopsy) and send it to the lab for analysis. The lab report will tell if it is melanoma.
Depending on the stage of your melanoma and some other factors specific to you, treatment may vary but generally can involve surgery, radiation therapy, or medical therapy.
- Different types of surgery to treat melanoma that has not spread include traditional tumor removal (excision) and Mohs surgery, which is a layer-by-layer approach. Mohs surgery is not always a definitive cure but can be an important part of staging. We offer sentinel lymph node biopsy procedures and perform complex regional lymph node dissections or removal procedures to treat melanoma that has spread to the regional lymph nodes. Reconstruction surgery can then help restore the look of the skin, if necessary.
- Radiation therapy
- Radiation can be used in different ways for melanoma. It is sometimes given after surgery to help reduce the chances of recurrence. We use stereotactic radiosurgery for melanoma that has spread to the brain. We also sometimes use radiation to alleviate symptoms of unresectable (inoperable) melanoma.
- The use of drugs to stimulate a patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells is a highly targeted, leading-edge treatment for some types of melanoma. UT Southwestern offers several types of immunotherapy agents, both within and outside of clinical trials. Our skin cancer team is also examining ways that immunotherapy can be combined with traditional treatments to improve outcomes.
- Targeted therapy
- We are evaluating the effectiveness of treating melanoma with targeted therapy, which involves the use of drugs to target the abnormal aspects of tumor cells without harming normal cells.
- Historically, chemotherapy has not been very effective in the treatment of melanoma. It may be used in advanced cases or to relieve symptoms. However, promising new drugs are being developed that may start to change the way the disease is managed.
Our robust clinical trials program allows melanoma patients to access new treatments that are unavailable at most other health care facilities and sometimes years before they are offered to the public. Specifically, an active Phase 1 unit – a component of UT Southwestern’s robust clinical trials program led by Arthur Frankel, M.D. – is investigating new chemotherapy drugs for melanoma.
Meet Our Team
At UT Southwestern, you’ll be cared for by a multidisciplinary team that includes surgical oncologists, dermatologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and plastic surgeons.
Learn more about all of our skin cancer specialists.
Request an Appointment
To schedule an appointment with a melanoma specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.