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Malignant melanoma.

  • Lang, P G Jr
Published Article
The Medical clinics of North America
Publication Date
Nov 01, 1998
PMID: 9889751


The incidence of malignant melanoma is increasing at a rate greater than any other cancer occurring in humans. In this era of managed care, patients with a suspicious pigmented lesion may first present to their primary care physician for evaluation. Therefore it is mandatory that the primary care physician be capable of distinguishing between benign and malignant pigmented lesions, know how to evaluate such patients, and know when to refer patients with suspicious or malignant pigmented lesions. Surgical removal remains the mainstay of treatment for patients with melanoma. Thus, to increase the cure rate for melanoma, both the public and nondermatologists need to be educated regarding the prevention and early detection of melanoma. Only in this way can the diagnosis of melanoma be made early before deep invasion has occurred and the patient placed at risk for systemic spread. In recent years, the surgical management of melanoma has become more conservative and rational. Limb amputation, arbitrary 5-cm margins of excision, and elective lymph node dissections are no longer performed. The recommended margins of excision are now based on objective pathologic and clinical data and are more conservative, and the sentinel node biopsy is now used to determine which high-risk patients should undergo a formal lymph node dissection. Although encouraging results are being seen with immunotherapy protocols, to date the only adjunctive therapy shown to increase survival in patients at high risk for systemic spread is alpha-interferon. With this drug, the improved survival is modest at best; it is expensive and a minority of patients can tolerate it in the doses recommended. Although response rates of 20% are seen with chemotherapy in patients with disseminated disease, these responses are short-lived, and there is no associated increased survival. Except for lentigo maligna, radiation therapy, even when its delivery is modified, still is useful only as an adjunct to surgery or for palliation.

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