Surgical removal of the cancerous tissue is the primary treatment for melanoma.
The extent of the procedure depends on the stage of the cancer. Types of surgery include:
Excision —The entire tumor along with a margin of normal, non-cancerous skin is cut away to make sure no more cancer cells remain in the skin. How much non-cancerous skin is cut away depends on how thick the tumor is. The wound is stitched together or covered with a skin graft and usually leaves a scar.
Mohs surgery —This procedure, performed by specialized dermatologists, is designed to shave away cancer cells while leaving as much normal tissue behind. It is somewhat controversial in the management of melanomas, but many believe it is as effective as a wider, potentially more disfiguring surgical procedure. Mohs surgery is usually reserved for stage 0 or in-situ melanoma. The so-called “slow Mohs” combines features of both Mohs surgery and excision.
Amputation —If melanoma is present on a finger or toe, it may be necessary to amputate the cancerous part of that digit.
Therapeutic lymph node dissection —If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, some of those nodes will be surgically removed.
If melanoma has spread to other areas of the body, surgery of the tumor will not cure the melanoma. However, surgery may still be done to try to control the cancer.
Dawn ME, Dawn AG, Miller SJ. Mohs surgery for the treatment of melanoma in situ: a review. Dermatol Surg. 2007;33(4):395-402.
Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 3, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2013.
Melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003120-pdf.pdf. Updated January 17, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2013.
Melanoma treatment—surgery . Melanoma Research Foundation website. Available at: http://www.melanoma.org/understand-melanoma/melanoma-treatment/surgery. Accessed April 8, 2013.
Walling HW, Scupham RK, Bean AK, Ceilley RI. Staged excision versus Mohs micrographic surgery for lentigo maligna and lentigo maligna melanoma. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;57(4):659-664.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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