Melanoma is a rapidly progressive type of skin cancer. The treatment of melanoma depends on the stage of the disease. Lymph nodes are small glands that are part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is involved in the formations of the white blood cells or WBCs. It is also the site where lymph, a clear fluid containing the white blood cells, is filtered. When melanoma begins to spread, it often first goes to the lymph node near the melanoma. The first lymph nodes that drain lymph fluid from the primary tumor are called sentinel lymph nodes. If the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes, it means that the person has stage III melanoma. Knowing the stage of melanoma helps the doctor plan the appropriate treatment. If the tumor has spread to the lymph nodes, the person may need a major surgery that involves the removal of the affected lymph nodes besides the primary tumor.
What is melanoma skin cancer?
Melanoma, also called malignant melanoma or cutaneous (relating to the skin) melanoma, is a type of skin cancer. It develops when there is an uncontrolled growth of the cells that give the skin its tan or brown color (melanocytes). Usually, the melanoma tumors are brown or black since most melanoma cells can make melanin. Some melanomas, however, do not make melanin. Such melanoma tumors can appear pink, tan, or even white.
Melanoma can occur on the skin of any part of the body. They usually start developing on the chest and back (the trunk) in men and on the legs in women. Melanomas also commonly occur on the neck and face. The less common sites for melanomas include the eyes, mouth, genitals, and anal area. Although melanomas are far less common than the other types of skin cancers, they are more dangerous since they spread rapidly to other parts of the body (metastasis). Thus, they need to be diagnosed and treated at early stages.
What is meant by a sentinel lymph node biopsy for melanoma?
Melanomas are rapidly spreading tumors. The first lymph node that a melanoma travels to is called the sentinel lymph node. A sentinel lymph node biopsy is a type of surgery in which a few lymph nodes nearest to the melanoma are removed and examined for the presence of melanoma cells. It is a minimally invasive surgery with a low risk of side effects. Sentinel lymph node biopsy or SLNB helps the doctor know about the stage of melanoma to plan appropriate treatment for the patient. It also helps the doctor to know the patient’s chances of recovery (prognosis).
During a sentinel lymph node biopsy:
- A dye or a tracer material is injected into the site of the tumor or mass that help stain the sentinel nodes during the procedure.
- The stained path from the tumor to the sentinel lymph nodes is mapped using an instrument that detects the tracer.
- The surgeon removes the sentinel lymph nodes and sends them for lab examination.
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