Melanoma is often thought of as being synonymous with “skin cancer.” While melanoma most often affects skin, it may also develop in any melanin-containing part of the body, including the eyes and lips. Regardless of the exact location, melanoma is often visible in even early stages, which may make it easier to detect and to begin early treatment. Early treatment provides the best opportunities for survival, but unfortunately no matter how early the cancer is detected, treatment may still be painful.
Surgery is the most common option for the treatment of melanomas. These types of surgeries are known as excisions. An excision typically removes the abnormal skin, as well as a border of normal-appearing skin. The amount of normal-appearing skin that is excised correlates to how deep the melanoma reaches into the body. Additional tissue, typically lower layers of skin and fat cells, are often removed from underneath the visible growth. Small excisions are usually closed with sutures, or stitches, and tend to heal fairly quickly without further problems. These excisions typically only require the use of a local anesthesia, meaning just the area being operated on is numbed via injections. Larger excisions, however, may require a skin graft to close the wound. These excisions may require general anesthesia, in which the patient is placed into a medically induced sleep so as to not feel the surgery as it occurs.
Melanoma has great potential to spread into nearby lymph nodes. Because of this, your doctor may palpate nearby lymph nodes. Any suspicious lymph nodes will likely be removed, or at least biopsied at the same time as excision of the skin growths. Since recovery time from excision depends on depth of the melanoma, an excision including the removal or biopsy of a lymph node will typically have a longer recovery time than a small surface excision.
When melanoma is discovered in its early stages, chances of successful excision are very high. However, if melanoma has metastasized (spread to other body parts), chances decrease. All surgeries have risk factors and may be scary, but when it comes to cancer treatment, the sooner truly is the better. Some of the most common risks associated with melanoma excision include scarring, infection, bleeding, or the body’s rejection of a skin graft.
If you suspect a mole or growth on your skin of being abnormal, schedule an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist right away. Melanoma may be easily treated if discovered and treated in the early stages, so time is of the essence.