Surgical treatment of melanoma

What is it?

The main treatment of atypical pigmented and non-pigmented lesions remains the surgical removal of the same and of any metastases.


Technical difficulty:
Average duration of the intervention:
20 minutes
Average duration of hospitalization:
No hospitalization is required for melanoma removal and eventual enlargement. On the other hand, in case of sentinel lymph node research (performed by the Week Surgery and Day Surgery Functional Unit), there is a pre-hospitalization (execution of hematochemical and instrumental tests) and a 1 night stay (the night of the intervention).

When is this procedure indicated?

In case of dysplastic pigmented lesions, with low grade dysplasia, a surgery will not be necessary. In case of pigmented lesions with high grade dysplasia with uninjured margins, at the discretion of the clinician and according to different aspects, an enlargement will be proposed to the patient in case of uninjured margins ≤ 0.9 mm (always taking into account the anatomical site, age of the patient, comorbidities of the patient). According to WHO 4 ed. 2018, high grade also includes MelTUMP (melanocytic tumor of unknown malignant potential) which should be treated as melanomas. In case of patients with intermediate lesions it is recommended that the margins in healthy tissue should be 2 mm, in case of high-grade lesions and melanoma in situ a margin widening of 5 mm is recommended, and in pT1a a widening of resection margins of 1 cm will be performed. In case of melanomas ≥ pT1b a 1 cm widening and sentinel lymph node search will be performed (after total body CT scan + brain with contrast medium and surgical examination). In case of positivity of the sentinel lymph node, the patient will be a candidate or not to adjuvant therapy, with BRAF and MEK inhibitors in case of BRAF gene mutation or immunotherapy with anti-PD-1.

Surgery is the treatment of choice in localized cutaneous melanoma. After the removal of the primary lesion, the surgical treatment is based on RADICALIZATION (wide excision) and SENTINEL LINFONODE BIOPSY (BLS).

Radicalization aims to reduce the risk of local recurrence of disease and consists in the removal of skin and subcutaneous tissue adjacent to the surgical scar related to the primary lesion, extending the resection to expose the muscle fascia.

The margins of resection in relation to the scar depend on the thickness of the melanoma (according to Breslow).

According to the main international guidelines, the indicated resection margins are as follows:

  • Melanoma in situ: 0.5 - 1 cm
  • Breslow < 1 mm: 1 cm
  • Breslow 1 - 2 mm: 1 - 2 cm
  • Breslow > 2.0 mm: 2 cm

In particular areas, for functional and/or aesthetic reasons, more limited resection margins are maintained, with eventual extemporaneous histological examination of resection limits.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy (BLS) is normally indicated in melanomas with Breslow > 1 mm, but it can be proposed also in the pT1b stage (Breslow 0.8 - 1 mm or less than 1 mm but with presence of ulceration). In the latter case, in fact, the risk of sentinel node positivity is not irrelevant (5-12%).

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How is it performed?

The removal of the suspected melanoma (and enlargement) is performed through local anesthesia of the lesion to be removed and of the surrounding skin. Then the surgical breach is closed after the application of sutures.


There is no hospitalization, but the patient after the surgery must wait about 30 minutes in the waiting room before being allowed to leave.

Short-term complications

Short-term complications are only malpractice, possible bleeding of the surgical wound, and overinfection.

Long-term complications

No long-term complications are expected, other than the presence of a surgical cochlear, which in some cases can evolve into hypertrophic scarring and/or keloid formation.

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