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Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®)

  • Last Modified: 03/19/2014

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Stage I Melanoma

Standard Treatment Options for Patients With Stage I Melanoma
Treatment Options Under Clinical Evaluation for Patients With Stage I Melanoma
Current Clinical Trials

Stage I melanoma is defined by the American Joint Committee on Cancer's TNM classification system:[1]

  • T1a, N0, M0
  • T1b, N0, M0
  • T2a, N0, M0
Standard Treatment Options for Patients With Stage I Melanoma
  • Current evidence suggests that lesions 2 mm or less in thickness may be treated conservatively with radial excision margins of 1 cm. A randomized trial compared narrow margins (1 cm) with wide margins (at least 3 cm) in patients with melanomas no thicker than 2 mm.[2,3] No difference was observed between the two groups in respect to the development of metastatic disease, disease-free survival (DFS), or overall survival (OS). Two other randomized trials compared 2 cm margins with wider margins (i.e., 4 cm or 5 cm) and found no statistically significant difference in local recurrence, distant metastasis, or OS with a median follow-up of 10 years or more for both trials.[4-6][Level of evidence:1iiA] In the Intergroup Melanoma Surgical Trial, the reduction in margins from 4 cm to 2 cm was associated with a statistically significant reduction in the need for skin grafting (46% to 11%, P < .001) and a reduction in the length of the hospital stay.[6] Depending on the location of the melanoma, most patients can now have this procedure performed on an outpatient basis.

    Elective regional lymph node dissection is of no proven benefit for patients with stage I melanoma. Lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node (SNL) biopsy for patients who have tumors of intermediate thickness and/or ulcerated tumors, however, may allow the identification of individuals with occult nodal disease who might benefit from regional lymphadenectomy and adjuvant therapy.[7-10]

    The International Multicenter Selective Lymphadenectomy Trial (MSLT-1 [JWCI-MORD-MSLT-1193]) included 1,269 patients with intermediate-thickness (defined as 1.2 mm–3.5 mm in this study) primary melanomas.[11] There was no melanoma-specific survival advantage (the primary endpoint) for those patients randomly assigned to wide excision plus SLN biopsy followed by immediate complete lymphadenectomy for node positivity versus patients randomly assigned to nodal observation and delayed lymphadenectomy for subsequent nodal recurrence at a median of 59.8 months.[11][Level of evidence: 1iiB]

    This trial was not designed to detect a difference in the impact of lymphadenectomy in patients with microscopic lymph node involvement.[11]

Treatment Options Under Clinical Evaluation for Patients With Stage I Melanoma
  • Because of the higher rate of treatment failure in the subset of clinical stage I patients with occult nodal disease, clinical trials are evaluating new techniques to detect submicroscopic SLN metastasis to identify those patients who may benefit from regional lymphadenectomy with or without adjuvant therapy. One of the objectives of the phase III Sunbelt Melanoma Trial (UAB-9735) was to determine the effects of lymphadenectomy with or without adjuvant high-dose interferon-alpha-2b versus observation on DFS and OS in patients with submicroscopic SLN metastasis detected only by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) (i.e., SLN negative by histology and immunohistochemistry). No survival data have been reported from this study. A diagnostic study (UCCRC-9308) tested the combination of reverse transcription and PCR in the detection of melanoma tumor antigen transcripts in lymph nodes and peripheral blood samples.
Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I melanoma. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

  1. Melanoma of the skin. In: Edge SB, Byrd DR, Compton CC, et al., eds.: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer, 2010, pp 325-44. 

  2. Veronesi U, Cascinelli N: Narrow excision (1-cm margin). A safe procedure for thin cutaneous melanoma. Arch Surg 126 (4): 438-41, 1991.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  3. Veronesi U, Cascinelli N, Adamus J, et al.: Thin stage I primary cutaneous malignant melanoma. Comparison of excision with margins of 1 or 3 cm. N Engl J Med 318 (18): 1159-62, 1988.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  4. Cohn-Cedermark G, Rutqvist LE, Andersson R, et al.: Long term results of a randomized study by the Swedish Melanoma Study Group on 2-cm versus 5-cm resection margins for patients with cutaneous melanoma with a tumor thickness of 0.8-2.0 mm. Cancer 89 (7): 1495-501, 2000.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  5. Balch CM, Soong SJ, Smith T, et al.: Long-term results of a prospective surgical trial comparing 2 cm vs. 4 cm excision margins for 740 patients with 1-4 mm melanomas. Ann Surg Oncol 8 (2): 101-8, 2001.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  6. Balch CM, Urist MM, Karakousis CP, et al.: Efficacy of 2-cm surgical margins for intermediate-thickness melanomas (1 to 4 mm). Results of a multi-institutional randomized surgical trial. Ann Surg 218 (3): 262-7; discussion 267-9, 1993.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  7. Hochwald SN, Coit DG: Role of elective lymph node dissection in melanoma. Semin Surg Oncol 14 (4): 276-82, 1998.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  8. Essner R, Conforti A, Kelley MC, et al.: Efficacy of lymphatic mapping, sentinel lymphadenectomy, and selective complete lymph node dissection as a therapeutic procedure for early-stage melanoma. Ann Surg Oncol 6 (5): 442-9, 1999 Jul-Aug.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  9. Gershenwald JE, Thompson W, Mansfield PF, et al.: Multi-institutional melanoma lymphatic mapping experience: the prognostic value of sentinel lymph node status in 612 stage I or II melanoma patients. J Clin Oncol 17 (3): 976-83, 1999.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  10. Mraz-Gernhard S, Sagebiel RW, Kashani-Sabet M, et al.: Prediction of sentinel lymph node micrometastasis by histological features in primary cutaneous malignant melanoma. Arch Dermatol 134 (8): 983-7, 1998.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  11. Morton DL, Thompson JF, Cochran AJ, et al.: Sentinel-node biopsy or nodal observation in melanoma. N Engl J Med 355 (13): 1307-17, 2006.  [PUBMED Abstract]