Treatment Options for Stage I Melanoma

The standard of treatment for Stage I melanoma is surgery and sometimes sentinel lymph node biopsy, based upon your stage of melanoma and your doctor’s assessment.

Surgery for Stage I Melanoma

The purpose of surgery is to remove any cancer remaining after the biopsy. This procedure is called a wide excision.

The surgeon removes the rest of the tumor including the biopsy site, the surgical margin (a surrounding area of normal-appearing skin), and the underlying subcutaneous tissue, to make certain the whole tumor has been removed.

The width of the margin taken depends upon the thickness of the primary tumor. Most surgeons follow the guidelines adopted and recommended by the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization Melanoma Program which call for a 1cm margin in all directions. This typically results in a scar at least 6cm (about 2 inches) in length, but it may be longer depending on the location on the skin and the size and orientation of the biopsy site. Skin grafting may sometimes be required to cover the wound, especially if it is on the face, the fingers, or toes.

Learn more about surgery

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy (SLNB)

Sentinel lymph node biopsy is most accurate when the lymph channels around the primary melanoma have not been disturbed by a prior wide excision. Therefore, in general, the sentinel node biopsy and wide excision are done during the same surgery, with the sentinel node biopsy being done first.

Recommended For Patients With:

  • Stage I tumors equal to or greater than than 1.0mm
  • Ulcerated tumors of any thickness
  • Positive biopsy margins
  • Lymphovascular invasion (seeing cancer cells In the lymphatic channels or blood vessels
  • Young adults with the presence of mitosis (rate at which cells divide)


  • Determine whether any cancer cells have spread to the sentinel node, the first lymph node to receive drainage from the primary tumor, and the site where melanomas commonly spread to first.
  • Further treatment will depend on whether the lymph node biopsy is positive.
Learn more about SLNB

Related Content

What to Ask Your Doctor About Stage I Melanoma

It is important to use the time with your doctor to learn as much about your cancer as you can. Find questions you may want to ask him/her.

Follow-Up for Stage I Melanoma

Follow-up care is important after being treated for melanoma. Learn about a plan for your stage.

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