Surgery is usually the primary treatment for melanoma. If the tumor is removed very early, no other treatment is usually needed. If you have a more advanced melanoma, you may also be treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy, which is also called biological therapy.
A simple surgical excision
If your melanoma is localized, meaning it is just on the skin, it can sometimes be removed fairly simply.
- A surgeon removes the tumor, along with a “safety margin” of normal skin.
- Sometimes the surgeon uses a skin graft during surgery to replace tissue that was removed.
Less simple excision
The thickness of the tumor as well as other characteristics are important when you and your team are deciding how to best treat your melanoma.
- If the melanoma is thicker, your surgeon will have to cut wider margins.
- In addition, thicker melanomas have a tendency to spread to nearby lymph nodes, which need to be evaluated and possibly removed.
This surgical procedure helps your team understand if your melanoma has spread.
- Your surgeon will remove some lymph nodes.
- The nodes are then sent to a pathologist for evaluation under a microscope.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy
This procedure is also called sentinel node mapping.
- It uses a radiolabeled (it can be tracked) material to find the exact lymph node or nodes that your cancer would spread to first, if it had spread.
- Once your surgeon finds this sentinel (first) lymph node, he or she can biopsy it and see if your melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes.
- If the biopsy shows some cancer, then the lymph nodes in that area will be removed.
- If the biopsy shows no metastasis, further lymph node surgery is not necessary.
If your cancer has spread to other organs that require surgery, your team will bring in surgeons specially trained in operating on the organs affected by your matastisis (spread of cancer).