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What are the treatment options for malignant melanoma?

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The primary treatment of malignant melanoma is excision with margins, explains The Merck Manual Professional Edition. Metastatic disease is treated with chemotherapy and adjuvant therapy. Lesions that are less than 1 millimeter thick require a 1-centimeter excision of surrounding healthy tissue, and thicker lesions may require more radical treatment.

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Melanoma that spreads to the surrounding lymph nodes requires lymph node excision with additional therapy before and after the procedure, according to Mayo Clinic. Chemotherapy is used to destroy cancer cells and is injected intravenously during a procedure called isolated limb perfusion. This therapy requires patients to remain immobile while the drug is administered directly to the area with the melanoma.

Radiation is commonly used after lymph node removal to kill cancer cells with high-powered beams of energy, explains Mayo Clinic. It is also used to relieve symptoms of cancer in patients with metastatic disease. Biological therapy, such as interferon, interleukin-2 and ipilimumab, boosts the immune system to help the body kill cancer cells. Side effects include chills, fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches.

Advanced melanoma is treated with targeted therapy that focuses on destroying cancer cells by exploiting their vulnerabilities, suggests Mayo Clinic. These drugs include vemurafenib and dabrafenib, which only work on particular melanomas with a specific genetic mutation.

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