Surgery is the most common way to treat melanoma. It may be used with other treatments to keep cancer from spreading or coming back.
Surgery for Earlier Stages of Melanoma
The entire tumor is cut away, along with a wide area of healthy tissue around it, to make sure no cancer cells remain in the skin. How much is taken depends on how large and deep the cancer is. Once the tumor is out, the skin is stitched together. Skin can be taken from another part of the body if needed. The scar may be permanent.
In Mohs surgery, the visible part of the tumor is removed. The tissue around it is then removed in layers. Each new layer is checked for cancer cells. This process is repeated until there are no cancer cells left. This method saves as much healthy tissue as possible.
Mohs surgery is mainly used for a very localized group of abnormal cells that have not spread.
Rarely, a deep tumor found on a finger or toe may result in loss of some or all of the part.
Lymph Node Dissection
Cancer can spread to the lymph nodes near the main tumor. This allows cancer cells to travel to other sites in the body. During surgery, some or all lymph nodes that may have cancer will be removed and checked. Taking lymph nodes out can cause problems with lymph fluid draining from the limbs (a condition called lymphedema). Your doctor will go over this risk with you.
Surgery for Later Stages of Melanoma
Surgery is not used as a cure once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body. But, it can be used to ease symptoms, prolong life, or improve quality of life.
Melanoma. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/cancers-of-the-skin/melanoma. Updated March 2019. Accessed May 8, 2019.
Melanoma: Diagnosis and treatment. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/melanoma#treatment. Accessed May 8, 2019.
Surgery for melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/treating/surgery.html. Updated May 20, 2016. Accessed May 8, 2019.
Treatment options by stage. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/melanoma-treatment-pdq#_165. Updated May 1, 2019. Accessed May 8, 2019.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.