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What Is Liver Melanoma?

By Dulce Corazon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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. 

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Discussion Comments
By anon992782 — On Oct 02, 2015

@candyquilt: From the information I've been reading, it seems that the cancer liver melanomas usually come from somewhere else. I have a friend who had choroidal melanoma (cancer of the eye rare) now it has metastasized to the liver. There are research studies at NIH that have been successful for some. Unfortunately he wasn't a candidate for the second phase of the study.

By anon345716 — On Aug 21, 2013

My dad was diagnosed with ocular melanoma in 2011. He has had clear scans since the radiation patch until last week. He now has tumors on his spine and liver. the doctor says they don't do chemo for this type, but have a medication to help prolong his life. I want a second opinion. I've read too many cases saying chemo and radiation are used. Any thoughts?

By anon337131 — On Jun 03, 2013

It started in the liver. He has Hep C and is an alcoholic. He continues to drink.

By anon336941 — On Jun 01, 2013

My mom had surgery to shrink a cancerous tumor behind her eye last summer (2012) and they said if that cancer spreads, it tends to go to the liver. They checked her liver before going ahead with the eye surgery but here we are a year later and she was diagnosed with liver melanoma.

By bear78 — On Oct 01, 2012

@ankara-- I think "ocular" means "eye." She must have died from cancer which spread from the melanin cells in her eye to her liver and caused liver damage.

I know it sounds weird that a tumor would spread from the eye to the liver but it can happen. Cancer can also easily spread from the breasts or the lungs to the liver too.

By bluedolphin — On Oct 01, 2012

My grandmother died when I was young and I never knew why she died. Today I found out from the hospital records that her cause of death was "ocular melanoma spread to liver." What does this mean?

By candyquilt — On Sep 30, 2012

@sleith-- A hepatic tumor means a tumor in the liver so it's the same thing as a liver melanoma. Did your friend's tumor spread from a tumor in another part of his body or did it start in the liver?

I think that's an important distinction because if there are multiple tumors going on at the same time, melanoma treatment becomes more complicated. Doctors have to treat one tumor first and then move on to the next one. If the melanoma originated in the liver, treatment becomes easier I think.

By the way, does anyone know if the majority of liver melanomas originate in the liver or somewhere else?

By sleith — On Sep 22, 2012

My friend just had a hepatic tumor (melanoma) removed. Anyone have info about this?

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