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Melanoma Program

The Melanoma Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital brings together an extensive multidisciplinary team to diagnose, treat, and care for patients with melanoma. Our program includes experts in melanoma surgery, medical oncology, dermatology, pathology, dermatopathology, radiology, genetics, and radiation oncology. From patients who present with an early-stage diagnosis or more complex, metastatic disease, our team is prepared to provide each patient with the most comprehensive and cutting-edge treatment available.  

Each patient’s care will be reviewed by our multidisciplinary care team to develop a personalized treatment plan. Clinical trials are also available to patients through Yale Cancer Center, bringing the latest treatment options for melanoma to our clinics to benefit patients. 

Our Approach

Smilow Cancer Hospital places great emphasis on taking care of all of our patients’ needs through a network of supportive care services. Nurses with specific knowledge and skills related to the treatment of melanoma care for our patients throughout treatment. Patients and their families also have access to social workers to provide psychosocial support, as well as pastoral support, nutritional counseling, physical therapy, palliative care, and integrative medicine.

Melanomas can occur on anywhere on the skin, and even in areas not exposed to the sun. For some melanoma patients, particularly those in the early stages where disease has not spread beyond the primary site or lymph nodes close to the primary site, surgery may be the preferred initial treatment. Our melanoma surgery team includes experts in surgical oncology and plastic surgery. For certain regions of the body, our team collaborates with other highly trained surgical subspecialties, including thoracic surgery and neurosurgery.

To determine the extent of the melanoma and if any metastases are present, CAT scans, MRI scans and/or PET scans may be used. If the disease is present in multiple body sites, immunotherapy or targeted molecular therapies will be recommended using the knowledge and expertise of our oncology team.

One of the major complications of advanced melanoma is spread of disease to the brain. The disease and treatment of the disease can have important neurologic consequences. Our highly skilled and experienced team is ready to manage this disease, in collaboration with experts in other relevant specialties, including neurology.

In addition to standard-of-care treatments, clinical trials may be available, and may also be offered if the current treatment is not effective. Our physicians have participated in and led clinical trials of the immune therapies that are now standard-of-care, and substantially improved the outcome for patients with advanced melanoma.


Special Types of Melanoma

Melanoma is also known to develop in areas of the body other than the skin. Ocular melanoma is the most common eye tumor in adults. Care is managed through the Ocular Oncology Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital, in collaboration with the Smilow Cancer Hospital Melanoma Program. Mucosal melanoma is found in the mucosal surfaces of the body, which line the nasal passages, anus, vagina and other areas. Patients are often first seen by head and neck, gastrointestinal, or gynecologic surgeons. With both diagnoses, our Melanoma Program experts provide input and manage subsequent post-surgical and follow-up care for melanoma patients.

Research Program

Our program has a long history of groundbreaking laboratory and clinical research into the causes and treatment of melanoma. Patients with advanced or metastatic melanoma have access to numerous clinical trials at Smilow Cancer Hospital including novel immunotherapy and targeted molecular therapy regimens. Additionally, patients who are no longer eligible for melanoma-specific studies may be eligible for therapies through our Phase I Clinical Trial Program.

The Yale SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) in Skin Cancer is the result of a grant awarded by the NIH National Cancer Institute to improve risk assessment, measures for diagnosis and prognosis, and therapies for patients with melanoma. As only one of five sites in the Unites States to receive a SPORE grant focused on skin cancer, Yale is in the unique position of being able to prioritize skin cancer research through several research projects and a career development program.

Yale Cancer Center is also home to several leading melanoma research laboratories, which study the genetics and cellular changes that result in melanoma. Yale researchers developed several mouse models that are used worldwide. They are used to study how melanoma forms and progresses, and how the immune system can be stimulated to fight melanoma, as well as afford researchers the ability to test new melanoma therapies.