A diagnosis of the potentially fatal skin cancer known as melanoma can be alarming, but it can help to understand the options for treating this disease. Melanoma, a cancer of the skin's melanocytes, affects over 60,000 new Americans annually. Melanoma that spreads to the body's vital organs can result in death, but people who are diagnosed and treated early have a 95% chance of survival. Before melanoma can be treated, it must be classified. Doctors organize melanoma into four stages, based on the tumor's thickness and its movement throughout the body. The first two stages of melanoma are known collectively as early melanomas. These tumors are not very thick and haven't spread far into the body. If a melanoma tumor has spread to the lymph nodes, the diagnosis is a Stage III or Stage IV melanoma. A stage three melanoma is one that has spread to a lymph node near the tumor site. A stage four melanoma is one that has moved to lymph nodes further away from the tumor, or to the lungs, liver, or brain. Regardless of classification, the first step in treating melanoma is a procedure called excision, which consists of surgically removing a tumor and about three-fourths of an inch of skin around it. For people with Stage I and Stage II melanoma, excision is often all that is needed to eradicate the cancer. These patients will still need regular follow up visits with a doctor to ensure that melanoma doesn't return. For patients with a Stage III or Stage IV melanoma, excision may be followed by an additional therapy designed to remove the cancer from any other places where it has spread. One of the most commonly used therapies for advanced melanoma is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy drugs, like interferons and interleukins, are injected into the body to help its immune system destroy cancer cells. Another treatment for advanced melanoma is radiation therapy. This procedure uses high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. Because radiation therapy is expensive and lengthy, it is usually only used for patients who have stage four melanoma or for patients who are not good surgical candidates. Chemotherapy is a form of melanoma treatment in which a variety of drugs are used to eradicate cancer cells. This procedure is usually performed in cycles to allow a patient to recover from the side effects. People with advanced melanoma on their arms or legs may undergo a type of chemotherapy called isolated limb perfusion. In this treatment, chemotherapy drugs are injected directly into the bloodstream of the affected limb. Research is currently underway to find new treatments for melanoma. Sometimes, patients with advanced melanoma opt to participate in experimental trials to help find new cures. Melanoma can be frightening, but there are a number of treatments to help patients get the care they need. Please talk to your doctor about the treatment that is best for you. Want to learn more? Check out other videos and sources on this site for more information.