Surgery is the most common way to treat melanoma. It may be used with other treatments to keep cancer from spreading or coming back.
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.
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 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. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115302/Melanoma. Updated March 26, 2019. Accessed May 8, 2019.
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.
Last reviewed March 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 5/8/2019