When melanoma goes untreated it can metastasize, or spread to other areas of the body. In almost three-fourths of cases that do metastasize, the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes and from there can continue to spread. Other areas where the cancer often spreads is to other areas on the skin, lungs, liver, gallbladder, brain, bone, heart, pancreas, adrenal glands and kidneys. Once melanoma has spread, the prognosis greatly decreases.
Researchers in Australia are looking for ways to stop cancer from spreading by manipulating natural killer cells (NK cells). These cells patrol our bodies looking for viruses and diseases, including changes in our cells from cancer. Based on "information" the NK cells receive from other cells, they decide to kill or not kill. The NK cells then learn from that experience and are quicker to kill the next time they come across the same type of cell. We know that these cells are not always successful because we do get sick and cancer does spread.
The scientists from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia are looking for ways to manipulate and harness the power of NK cells to further prevent the spread of cancer. They have discovered a specific protein is responsible for the survival of NK cells and want to know if this protein can be used to either boost or deplete NK cells, depending on the individual situation. For example, NK cells have been found to play a part in rejection of bone marrow transplants and in toxic shock syndrome. In these cases, researchers want to reduce the number of NK cells. To help reduce the spread of cancer, however, the researchers are looking for ways to boost the number of NK cells in the body.
In the meantime, the best way to prevent melanoma from metastasizing is early detection and treatment, including surgically removing the cancer. If you don’t have melanoma, but are at high risk for skin cancer, you should be completing skin self-checks on a monthly basis and visiting your dermatologist for a check-up at least once a year. If you have had melanoma in the past, you should still complete skin self-checks but your doctor might recommend full body checks every few months to make sure any returning melanoma is caught and treated early. Your doctor will also show you how to check your lymph nodes so you can include them in your self-checks. Regular check-ups are important because melanoma can spread "silently," without you experiencing any symptoms.
Protecting yourself from sun damage, or further sun damage, is also important. Using sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher daily, wearing protective clothing, including wide brimmed hats, and staying out of the sun between the hours of 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM will help protect you from the harmful UV rays from the sun.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.