Diagnosis and treatment of cutaneous melanoma: state of the art 2006*

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Although the incidence of melanoma is still rising in Caucasian populations, the increase in mortality has leveled off. Improvements in early diagnosis, with more frequent diagnosis of low-risk patients (i.e. those with <1 mm of tumor thickness), is the main reason for these divergent developments. Primary prevention has not yet been successful and recent studies have demonstrated the lack of effectiveness of sunscreen in preventing nevi in children. Progress was made in early melanoma diagnosis when dermoscopy and digital dermoscopy were introduced, and computer algorithms have proved to be highly efficacious for automated melanoma diagnosis. Primary melanomas are now excised with narrower surgical margins of 1–2 cm. Sentinel-node biopsy is recommended as a nodal staging procedure in patients with tumor thickness of 1 mm and more, but the prognostic impact of this procedure has not yet been demonstrated. New imaging techniques, e.g. whole-body MRI and PET-CT, provide more accurate staging, particularly in patients with apparent metastasis, and facilitate decisions on surgical treatment strategies. Staging is now based on the 2001 TNM classification including tumor thickness and histopathologic ulceration in stages I and II and lymph node micro and macro-metastasis in stage III. A stage- and risk-adopted follow-up schedule is proposed for melanoma surveillance. Adjuvant therapy with interferon-alpha in high-risk patients offers a small benefit in terms of recurrence-free and overall survival; the optimal dosage and duration of this treatment are still to be defined. Almost no progress has been made in the medical treatment of disseminated metastasis of melanoma. Therapy with dacarbazine and a few other single agents remains the first-line treatment approach of choice. A number of new treatment modalities, including targeted molecules and immunologic approaches with monoclonal antibodies, are under development; hopefully, new treatment modalities will be available in the near future.

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