Melanomas that have spread can disappear on the skin

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Former President Jimmy Carter is being treated for cancer that has spread to his brain. It was also found in his liver.   Carter said that doctors have yet to determine where the melanoma originated.  Doctors say in the vast majority of cases, melanoma starts on the skin although about one in 20 originate in the eye.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.  It usually appears as an unusual mole.  But a skin specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital says it's possible that Carter's original melanoma hasn't been found because the spot on his skin disappeared.

"Melanoma is one of three cancer types that can regress spontaneously, so the skin lesion can go away completely.  Unfortunately, before it goes away completely, some of its cells may have migrated to lymph nodes and elsewhere," said Dr. Daniel Aires.

The former president will have radiation therapy along with immunotherapy which is a newer way to fight melanoma that's spread.

"It involves essentially unleashing the body's immune system to attack cancer cells," said Dr. Aires.

Dee Witbeck of Warrensburg has had both radiation and immunotherapy at K.U. Cancer Center for a recurrence of melanoma in his jaw.  He says the treatment was trying.

"Basically for a year, I didn't do a whole lot.  I slept a lot and I lost a lot of weight," said Witbeck.

It's been almost two years since his cancer recurred.  Witbeck says the therapy isn't a cure, but it offers hope for the extension of life.

"I'm here, I'm active, I'm working again," said Witbeck.

He wishes the same for the former president.

Sunburns put you at greater risk for melanoma.  Dr. Aires says President Carter, being a fair-skinned southerner who farmed, likely was at higher risk.