Aug 20, 2015 1:00 AM

Author: Elizabeth Renda


Jimmy Carter at the LBJ library

Former President Jimmy Carter recently announced that he was diagnosed with cancer; today he publicized he is suffering from melanoma. The 90-year-old former president had a metastatic melanoma tumor removed from his liver earlier this year. The aggressive cancer has now spread to four small spots in his brain.

President Carter’s melanoma is a somewhat unique case. It has been reported that there was no primary skin lesion that explained his melanoma diagnosis and doctors are still searching for its origin.

“It is rare for melanoma to occur inside the body, but it does happen,” said Keith Duffy, MD, Mohs surgeon for University of Utah Dermatology and member of the Multidisciplinary Cutaneous Oncology program at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

"The condition is known as ‘melanoma of unknown primary’. This can occur in one of two ways. One possibility is the presence of melanocytes in internal organs that can spread without leaving a trail to their original origin,” Dr. Duffy explained.

“It’s also possible that a tumor can arise, regress and metastasize all before the individual or physician realized it was there. Then, when a tumor appears internally, the lesion has disappeared.”

Only about two percent of melanoma present with an internal tumor without a primary lesion detected. It is important to remember that this still means 98 percent of melanoma cases can be caught by a simple skin check.

"Early detection is paramount when it comes to successful outcomes. Melanoma remains one of the most aggressive cancers out there and becomes a much more difficult illness to treat after metastasis occurs. Due diligence is the key to catching it early and saving lives. ”

President Carter will undergo radiation therapy for the small lesions found on his brain. It is reported that he is at ease about his diagnosis and wants to be active and engaged as he moves forward with treatment.


Elizabeth Renda

Elizabeth Renda handles communications for the Department of Dermatology. Follow the department on Facebook @UofUDermatology.

melanoma skin cancer

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