Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, can be successfully treated if detected early. If undetected and untreated, melanoma can be lethal.
Yale-New Haven Hospital established a program dedicated to the study of melanoma in 1976. Over the years, the program has made many important discoveries about the scientific nature of the disease, which have led to innovative new treatments and better outcomes for patients. Much of that success is the result of adding medical and scientific experts from diverse fields to the team. "This is one of the oldest and most experienced multidisciplinary programs at Yale-New Haven," says Stephan Ariyan, MD, the Melanoma Program's founder and current director. "To our pride, we've become a role model for other programs here."
Looking at the Whole Patient
Melanoma, as with many other cancers, is successfully treated — and frequently cured — with surgery and chemotherapy. Yet there's growing evidence that treatment often involves more than just surgically removing cancerous skin cells. "Our approach is to take care of the entire patient," Dr. Ariyan states. "That means forming a better understanding of the disease and its overall effects on patients. Recently, for example, our team added a geneticist to study the hereditary risks of melanoma and its possible genetic links to other cancers. We've also brought in psychiatrists, who can assist patients, as well as their family members, in dealing with stress and other psychological factors. In fact, we've found a correlation between the occurrence of highly stressful events in people's lives followed by a diagnosis of melanoma within two years."
Learning from Each Other
Today our melanoma team, now based at Smilow Cancer Hospital, also includes surgeons, medical oncologists, dermatologists, radiologists, and surgical and dermatologic pathologists. They participate in weekly meetings to discuss not only patients' cases and treatments but also ongoing research that may lead to new ways to diagnose, treat and manage the disease. "Our basic scientists come to our clinical meetings," Dr. Ariyan says, "and clinicians attend the research meetings. This type of collaboration leads us to make discoveries together and answer each other's questions. That's how we have evolved and developed over the past 35 years."