Surgical Margins for Melanoma in Situ

Murad Alam, MD, MSCI


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In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Using Mohs surgery to delineate the true dimensions of a tumor, researchers identify a better standard for excision.


Excision of melanoma in situ remains more art than science. Those who use conventional excision are prepared for a high rate of local recurrence after standard 5-mm margins, and even after Mohs, some surgeons employ adjuvant therapies along the periphery (e.g., topical imiquimod) to further decrease the risk for recurrence. The 5-mm margin established by a 1992 consensus opinion is understood to be insufficient, but until now, little evidence has been available to set another specific benchmark.

These investigators reviewed 1120 Mohs surgeries performed in 1072 patients with melanoma in situ from 1982 to 2008 at a single center to estimate the appropriate clearance margin needed for conventional (non-Mohs) excision. In each case, the central melanoma in situ was debulked, and successive concentric 3- mm–wide saucers extending through subcutis were removed for frozen section inspection of the lateral and deep margins. To clear the melanomas, 6-mm margins were sufficient in 86% of cases, 9-mm margins cleared 98.9%, 1.2 cm cleared 99.4%, 1.5 cm cleared 99.6%, and 100% of lesions were cleared with 3-cm margins. The 9-mm margins were significantly superior to 6-mm margins (P<0.001). Gender, location, and lesion diameter did not affect these results. Overall, the 10-year recurrence rate was 0.8%. The authors conclude that 9-mm margins, rather than the traditional 5-mm margins, are appropriate for melanoma in situ excision.


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