What is hepatic melanoma?

Melanoma is a malignant tumor or cancer that arises from melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin. Melanin is generally responsible for giving skin its color. Most melanomas usually start on the skin, but there are also cases where the disease starts in various tissues and organs of the body. Commonly, hepatic melanomas are the result of metastases or spread of a malignant melanoma that originated from non-adjacent tissues or organs. When melanoma started in the liver and is not due to metastasis, it is called primary melanoma of the liver.

The symptoms of hepatic melanoma are similar to other chronic liver diseases. These include weakness, loss of appetite, and hepatomegaly, which is an enlarged liver. Affected patients usually have abnormal liver function, as determined by a blood test.

Risk factors for developing liver melanoma often include an existing melanoma of other tissues 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 immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), leukemia due to blood disorders, or a previous organ transplant. Other factors, such as race, liver tissue injury, viral infection, and sun exposure can also cause liver melanoma.

Patients with hepatic melanoma are often cared for by a team of doctors. They are gastroenterologists, doctors who treat diseases of the digestive system; surgeons and oncologists, doctors who treat cancer. Treatment generally involves surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery is usually done to remove cancerous tissues, especially in stage IV patients.

During radiation therapy, the patient is exposed to high doses of radiation to shrink liver melanoma. For several weeks, patients receive regular radiation administration to destroy cancer cells without harming healthy cells. As a result, cancer pain is dramatically reduced, but usually does not indicate a cure. Dry skin, fatigue, and vomiting are common side effects of this therapy.

Another medical intervention for hepatic melanoma is the use of chemotherapy. Drugs that attack and kill cancer cells are usually given by mouth or through a vein. Side effects such as nausea and vomiting are frequently expected. The immunotherapy approach is also sometimes used to strengthen the patient's immune system.

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