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Melanoma is a malignant tumor or cancer arising from melanocytes, the cells in the skin that produces melanin. Melanin is generally responsible for giving color to the skin. Most melanomas usually originate in the skin, but there are also cases where the disease starts from various tissues and organs of the body. Commonly, liver melanomas are the result of metastasis or the spreading of a malignant melanoma that originated from non-adjacent tissues or organs. When the melanoma started in the liver itself, and is not due from a metastasis, it is called a primary liver melanoma.
Symptoms of are similar to other chronic liver diseases. These include weakness, loss of appetite, and hepatomegaly, which is the enlargement of the liver. Affected patients usually present with abnormal liver function, as determined by a blood test.
Risk factors for developing liver melanoma often include an already existing melanoma from other tissue or organs, a family history of the disease, or the presence of abnormal-looking moles and birthmarks. Another predisposing factor is a weakened immune system, such as those seen in patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), the blood disorder leukemia, or a previous organ transplant. Other factors, such as race, injury to the liver tissue, viral infection, and sun exposure can also lead to liver melanoma.
Liver melanoma patients are often cared for by a team of doctors. They are the gastroenterologists, doctors who treat digestive system diseases; surgeons; and oncologists, doctors who treat cancer. Treatment usually involves surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery is usually done to remove the cancerous tissues, especially in stage IV patients.
During radiation therapy, the patient is exposed to high doses of radiation to shrink the melanoma. For several weeks patients are given regular radiation treatments to destroy the cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells unharmed. Pain from the cancer is dramatically reduced as a result, but it does not generally indicate cure. Dry skin, fatigue, and vomiting are the common side effects of this therapy.
Another medical intervention for liver melanoma is the use of chemotherapy. Medications that attack and kill the cancer cells are usually given either orally or through the veins. Side effects such as nausea and vomiting are frequently expected. The immunotherapy approach is also sometimes used in order to strengthen the immune system of the patient.