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Melanoma Removal


Melanoma removal is a surgery to remove cancerous tissue in the skin.


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Reasons for Procedure    TOP

A melanoma removal is done to treat melanoma. For some, it may be a cure for melanoma.

Possible Complications    TOP

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Nerve damage
  • Scarring
  • Incomplete removal of all cancerous cells
  • Recurrence or spread of cancer

Smoking may increase the risk of complications.

What to Expect    TOP

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    TOP

Surgical removal of the cancerous cells is the primary treatment for melanoma. Types of surgery include:

  • Simple excision—The tumor is cut out, along with a small amount of normal skin at the edges. 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—A finger or toe may be removed if the cancer is on the digit.
  • Lymph node dissection—Nearby lymph nodes may be removed if there is concern that the cancer spread. The nodes will be examined under a microscope 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?    TOP

This depends on the extent of the melanoma and the type of surgery. Simple excision can take less than 1 hour.

Will It Hurt?    TOP

Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. You may have some pain around the wound during recovery. Medication will help manage pain.

Postoperative Care    TOP

Return to have any stitches or staples removed when instructed.

In more advanced cases of melanoma, other treatments may be necessary. These include:

Talk to your doctor about appropriate 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    TOP

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 medications 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: Accessed March 5, 2018.
Melanoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated February 28, 2015. Accessed March 5, 2018.
Melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed March 5, 2018.
6/2/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: 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.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 6/24/2013

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