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Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®)

Health Professional Version

Stage I Melanoma Treatment

Standard Treatment Options for Stage I Melanoma

Standard treatment options for stage I melanoma include the following:

  1. Excision with or without lymph node management.


Evidence suggests that lesions no thicker than 2 mm may be treated conservatively with radial excision margins of 1 cm.

Depending on the location of the melanoma, most patients can now have the excision performed on an outpatient basis.

Evidence (excision):

  1. A randomized trial compared narrow margins (1 cm) with wide margins (≥3 cm) in patients with melanomas no thicker than 2 mm.[1,2][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
    • No difference was observed between the two groups in the development of metastatic disease, disease-free survival (DFS), or overall survival (OS).
  2. Two other randomized trials compared 2-cm margins with wider margins (4 cm or 5 cm).[3,4][Level of evidence:1iiA]
    • No statistically significant difference in local recurrence, distant metastasis, or OS was found; the median follow-up was at least 10 years for both trials.
  3. In the Intergroup Melanoma Surgical Trial, the reduction in margins from 4 cm to 2 cm was associated with both of the following:[5][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
    • A statistically significant reduction in the need for skin grafting (from 46% to 11%; P < .001).
    • A reduction in the length of hospital stay.
  4. A multicenter, phase III randomized trial (SWOG-8593) of patients with high-risk stage I primary limb melanoma did not show a DFS or OS benefit from isolated limb perfusion with melphalan, when compared with surgery alone.[6,7]
Lymph node management

Elective regional lymph node dissection is of no proven benefit for patients with stage I melanoma.[8]

Lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) for patients who have tumors of intermediate thickness and/or ulcerated tumors may identify individuals with occult nodal disease. These patients may benefit from regional lymphadenectomy and adjuvant therapy.[6,9-11]

Evidence (immediate lymphadenectomy vs. observation with delayed lymphadenectomy):

  1. 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.[12][Level of evidence: 1iiB]
    • There was no melanoma-specific survival advantage (primary endpoint) for patients randomly assigned to undergo wide excision plus SLNB, followed by immediate complete lymphadenectomy for node positivity versus nodal observation and delayed lymphadenectomy for subsequent nodal recurrence at a median of 59.8 months.
    • This trial was not designed to detect a difference in the impact of lymphadenectomy in patients with microscopic lymph node involvement.
  2. The Sunbelt Melanoma Trial (UAB-9735 [NCT00004196]) was a phase III trial 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 sentinel lymph node (SLN) metastasis detected only by the polymerase chain reaction assay (i.e., SLN negative by histology and immunohistochemistry).
    • No survival data have been reported from this study.

Treatment Options Under Clinical Evaluation for Stage I Melanoma

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for patients with stage I melanoma include the following:

  1. Clinical trials evaluating new techniques to detect submicroscopic SLN metastasis. Because of the higher rate of treatment failure in the subset of clinical stage I patients with occult nodal disease, clinical trials have evaluated new techniques to detect submicroscopic SLN metastasis to identify patients who may benefit from regional lymphadenectomy with or without adjuvant therapy.

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. 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]
  2. 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]
  3. 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]
  4. 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]
  5. 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]
  6. 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]
  7. Koops HS, Vaglini M, Suciu S, et al.: Prophylactic isolated limb perfusion for localized, high-risk limb melanoma: results of a multicenter randomized phase III trial. European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Malignant Melanoma Cooperative Group Protocol 18832, the World Health Organization Melanoma Program Trial 15, and the North American Perfusion Group Southwest Oncology Group-8593. J Clin Oncol 16 (9): 2906-12, 1998. [PUBMED Abstract]
  8. Hochwald SN, Coit DG: Role of elective lymph node dissection in melanoma. Semin Surg Oncol 14 (4): 276-82, 1998. [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]
  12. Morton DL, Thompson JF, Cochran AJ, et al.: Final trial report of sentinel-node biopsy versus nodal observation in melanoma. N Engl J Med 370 (7): 599-609, 2014. [PUBMED Abstract]
  • Updated: November 7, 2014