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Melanoma removal is a procedure to remove cancer from the skin.
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Reasons for Procedure
This procedure is done to treat melanoma. For some, it may be a cure for melanoma.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Nerve damage
- Incomplete removal of all cancerous cells
- Recurrence or spread of cancer
Smoking may increase the risk of complications.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Depending on the stage of the disease, your doctor may do the following:
Local anesthesia is often used to numb the area where the cancer is removed. General anesthesia may need to be used if the area is large. In this case, you will be asleep.
Description of the Procedure
Surgical removal of the cancer cells is the primary treatment for melanoma. Types of surgery include:
- Simple excision—The tumor is cut out. A small amount of normal skin at the edges is also removed. The wound is stitched back together. This type of surgery may leave a scar.
- Wide excision—The tumor is cut out along with a larger area of normal skin. This will help make sure there are no cancer cells left behind.
- Amputation—If the cancer is on a finger or toe, it may need to be cut away from the hand or foot.
- Lymph node dissection—Nearby lymph nodes may be removed if there is concern that the cancer has spread. The nodes will be examined for the presence of cancer cells.
The area may be closed with stitches. A larger area may need to be covered with a skin graft from another area of your body.
How Long Will It Take?
This depends on the extent of the melanoma and the type of surgery. Simple excision can take less than 1 hour.
Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. You may have some pain around the wound during recovery. Medication will help manage pain.
After a rest, you will be able to return home the same day. Your doctor will want to check on your progress and remove stitches or staples in. It is important to go to any appointments as recommended.
In more advanced cases of melanoma, other treatments may be necessary. These include:
- Radiation therapy
Having melanoma puts you at risk for developing more. Talk to your doctor about ways to protect your skin against sun damage. These may include using sun block and wearing protective clothing.
You will also need to have regular skin exams to look for any return of cancer cells. Do self-exams to look for any new or changing moles. Your doctor can show you how to do a self-exam.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if any of these occur:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- Pain that you cannot control with the medicines you were given
- A new lump or discoloration in your skin
- A change such as color, bleeding, itching, or growth in an already-existing mole, either at the surgical site or in a new location
- New or unexpected symptoms
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Academy of Dermatology
American Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Society of Plastic Surgery
Bichakjian CK, Halpern AC, Johnson TM, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of primary cutaneous melanoma. American Academy of Dermatology. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011;65(5):1032-1047.
Lens MB, Nathan P, Bataille V. Excision margins for primary cutaneous melanoma: updated pooled analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Surg. 2007;142(9):885-891.
Melanoma. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/melanoma. Accessed March 5, 2018.
Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/melanoma. Updated February 28, 2015. Accessed March 5, 2018.
Melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer.html. Accessed March 5, 2018.
6/2/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/management/treatment-for-tobacco-use-19: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH
- Review Date: 03/2018
- Update Date: 03/03/2021