Melanoma is a serious type of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of your body. Early detection is important because melanoma can often be treated successfully by cutting it out of the skin when it is small. Surgery for melanoma may be used alone or in combination with other forms of cancer treatments if the cancer has begun to spread. Here is a look at how melanoma is treated with surgery.
The Cancerous Lesion Is Cut Out
In the early stages of melanoma, the tumor is still very small, so it is easy to cut out. The procedure can be done in your dermatologist's office with the use of a local anesthetic. The cancer is cut from your skin and a border of healthy tissue that surrounds it is taken as well to reduce the risk of cancer cells being left behind. If the wound is small, it is closed with stitches. If it is large, you may need to have skin grafted onto it instead.
The removed tissue is sent to a lab to be tested. If cancer cells are found in the healthy margin of tissue, you might need to have additional surgery to remove more tissue to make sure all the cancer has been removed. Recovering from skin cancer surgery takes a few weeks and during that time, you'll need to avoid strenuous activity that could affect the healing of your wound.
Mohs Surgery May Be Tried
Mohs surgery is sometimes used with melanoma. This type of surgery removes the smallest border possible from around the cancer. Mohs surgery is often used with other types of cancer, but it wasn't used often with melanoma because larger margins were considered safer with the more serious type of cancer. Newer methods of detecting cancer cells in the tissues have made Mohs surgery safer to use with melanoma. This type of surgery might be used if you have cancer removed from your face or if you've had surgery already and cancer cells were found in the margins during the lab test.
During Mohs surgery, the doctor removes a thin layer of tissue at a time and sends each slice off for examination by the lab before removing the next slice. This process lets the doctor know exactly when all the cancer has been removed so no more tissue is removed than necessary. The result is a smaller wound and less disfigurement after the surgery.
Lymph Nodes May Be Removed Too
Depending on the stage of your melanoma, your doctor may surgically remove lymph nodes too. You may only have the one closest to the cancer removed in order to catch or detect cancer cells that have begun to metastasize through the lymphatic system. Your doctor injects dye near the tumor which is then picked up by the nearest lymph node. The node is identified and removed and a biopsy is done that checks for the presence of cancer cells. If cells are present, more nodes may be removed. This procedure helps your doctor determine how far the cancer has spread. It can be done at the same time as the removal of the melanoma. It could also be done before or after your skin cancer surgery.
Surgery is an important treatment for melanoma. If it is caught early, the wound is usually smaller and there is less of a scar. If you have a more advanced case of melanoma, it may require restorative surgery on the wound to make it less visible, especially if the surgery was done on your face.