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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

Digestive System Melanoma


Other Names for this Disease
  • Melanoma of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Melanoma of the GI tract
  • Malignant melanoma of the gastrointestinal tract
  • primary gastrointestinal melanoma
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.

Your Question

I have been diagnosed with digestive system melanoma of the small intestine. I can't find any information on this type of cancer. Can you help? Is there anyway to find other people with this condition?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is digestive system melanoma?

Digestive system melanoma refers to a melanoma starting in the stomach, intestines, salivary glands, mouth, esophagus, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, or rectum. Melanoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the melanocytes. Melanocytes are commonly found in the skin and are the cells that give the skin color. While it is not uncommon for melanomas to start in the skin and later spread to other parts of the body (metastasize), melanomas originating in the gastrointestinal tract are rare. The most frequently reported site is in the esophagus and anorectum.[1] Symptoms of a digestive system melanoma may be nonspecific, including blood in the stool, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and anemia (low red blood cell count).[2] The cause of digestive system melanoma is not well understood. Some researchers theorize that it may have originated from an undetected primary tumor.[1][2] Treatment may include surgical excision of the gastrointestinal tract involved, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.[2]
Last updated: 6/23/2016

What is digestive system melanoma of the small intestine?

Digestive system melanoma of the small intestine refers specifically to a melanoma starting in the small intestine. The small intestine is the part of the gastrointestinal tract between the stomach and the large intestine (colon). This cancer may be diagnosed in a person where no other primary site of melanoma can be found.[1][3][4] There remains controversy as to whether or not melanoma can really originate in the small intestine because melanocytes are very rarely found here.[1][3][4]
Last updated: 6/23/2016

What causes digestive system melanoma?

The cause of digestive system melanoma is currently unknown. Theories include:[1][3][4][2]
  • The cancer originated from a undetectable primary tumor that spontaneously (naturally) regressed on its own
  • The cancer originated from a primary tumor that is so small it can not be detected using standard clinical and laboratory investigations
  • Early melanocyte cells (not usually found in the digestive system) lost their way during the development of the baby in the womb, and that these misplaced cells later became cancerous
Last updated: 6/23/2016

What are the signs and symptoms of digestive system melanoma?

Symptoms of digestive system melanoma can vary from person to person. Symptoms tend to be non-specific including: nausea, vomiting, stomachache, fatigue, hemorrhage (broken blood vessels), blood in stool, and anemia (low red blood cell count).[1][3][4][2]
Last updated: 6/23/2016

How is digestive system melanoma diagnosed?

A variety of imaging tests may be involved in the initial detection of the tumor, including: video capsule endoscopy, ultrasound, PET scan, and CT scan.[3][4][2] The tumor is confirmed by surgical resection. Careful study of tissue samples from the tumor under a microscope will show the same immunohistochemical characteristics of skin melanomas.[3] Once this has been established, the following are proposed diagnostic criteria for primary melanoma of the small intestine:[2]

I. The identification of a single solitary melanoma in the mucosa of the digestive system

II. The presence of other melanoma in the surrounding areas of the digestive system 

III. The absence of cutaneous melanoma or other atypical skin tumors in the melanocytes

Last updated: 6/23/2016

How might digestive system melanoma be treated?

Treatment of digestive system melanoma is dependent on the spread of the cancer and where it is located. Treatment might include surgery to remove the tumor and portion of the gastrointestinal tract involved, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.[2] 
Last updated: 6/23/2016

What is the long-term outlook for digestive system melanoma? 

The prognosis for individuals with digestive system melanoma varies from person to person. Important prognostic factors include if metastases are present at the time of diagnosis. Studies suggest that the average survival after complete removal of the tumor is about 48.9 months.[3][2] The longest reported survival after diagnosis is 21 years.[3]
Last updated: 6/23/2016

How can I find other people with digestive system melanoma?

There are rare cancer matching services that you can use that match people with similar cancer diagnoses.

The American Cancer Society has a cancer-matching service that is organized through local chapters.

American Cancer Society
Telephone: 1-800-ACS-2345
E-mail: http://www.cancer.org/asp/contactUs/cus_global.asp
Web site: www.cancer.org

MD Anderson Support Contact Program has a patient and caregiver matching program.

MD Anderson Support Contact Program
Telephone: 1-800-345-6324
E-mail: https://www2.mdanderson.org/sapp/contact/support.cfm

The R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation matches people with the same diagnosis. You can also volunteer to be a representative for a particular diagnosis.

R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation
Telephone: 1-800-433-0464
Fax: 1-816-931-7486

Last updated: 6/23/2016

References
  • Letovanec I, Vionnet M, Bouzourene H. . Primary appendiceal melanoma: Fiction or reality?. Human Pathol. 2004 May;
  • Andreas V. Hadjinicolaou,corresponding author1 Christopher Hadjittofi, Panagiotis G. Athanasopoulos, Rahul Shah,Aftab A. Ala. Primary small bowel melanomas: fact or myth?. Ann Transl Med. Mar 2016; 4(6):113. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4828744/.
  • Atmatzidis KS et al.,. Primary malignant melanoma of the small intestine: Report of a case. Surg Today. 2002;
  • Lagoudianakis EE et al.,. Primary gastric melanoma: A case report. World J. Gastroenterology. 2006 July 21;
Other Names for this Disease
  • Melanoma of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Melanoma of the GI tract
  • Malignant melanoma of the gastrointestinal tract
  • primary gastrointestinal melanoma
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.