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Updated June 27, 2014

Definition: Simple surgical excision (removal) is the most common method used to treat both primary and recurrent skin cancer tumors. The procedure involves surgically removing the tumor and a certain amount of normal-appearing skin surrounding it -- this is called the "margin." Removing the margin maximizes the chance that all the cancerous cells will be removed. After the lesion is excised, it is sent to a pathologist who checks the margins of the excision to make sure they are clear. For basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), margins are usually 2 to 4 mm. This results in a cure rate of 95% and 92% for primary BCC and SCC, respectively. For melanoma lesions, the size of the margin is much larger and depends on the stage of the disease:
  • Stage 0: 0.5 cm margin
  • Stage I: 1 to 2 cm, depending on the thickness of the melanoma (called the Breslow thickness)
  • stage II: If the melanoma is 1 to 2 mm thick, a 1 to 2 cm margin of normal skin will be removed as well. If the tumor is 2 to 4 mm thick, at least 2 cm of normal skin will be removed from around the tumor site. If the tumor is more than 4 mm thick, a margin of 3 cm is recommended when anatomically possible.
  • Stage III: 1 to 3 cm depending on the thickness of the tumor, followed by chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or other adjuvant treatments
Also Known As: surgical margin
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