What To Expect When Having Surgery For Superficial Spreading Melanoma Skin Cancer

The most common form of skin cancer in the U.S. is the superficial spreading melanoma (SSM). Roughly 70% of all reported cases of skin cancer are the result of SSM. This type of cancer can begin in moles and spread to other parts of the body. The longer the amount of time SSM cells are allowed to spread the more deadly the disease becomes. Light cases of SSM can usually be removed by performing a biopsy, but an advanced case typically requires an in-depth surgical procedure to remove the SSM cells. Here is what you should expect if you are going to have surgery when you have an advanced case of SSM.

Pre-Operation Procedures

The area around the cancer will be treated with a topical anti-septic solution to kill any germs on your arm that could get into the surgical wound and cause an infection.

The doctor may give you either a general or a local anesthetic so you don't feel any pain during the surgery. You usually breathe in a general anesthetic gas through a mask placed over your face, and the gas will put you into a deep sleep where you won't feel anything. A local anesthetic is administered in a syringe and is used to numb the immediate area that will be treated.

The Surgery

The surgeon will usually perform a "wide-local incision" surgery. Wide-local incision surgery is when the surgeon removes the area where the SSM is present as well as some of the surrounding healthy skin to try and make sure they have gotten all the cancer cells.

The section of skin is then immediately taken over to a microscope and viewed to make sure there aren't any SSM cells present along the edges of the removed piece of skin. If there are cells present on the edge of the skin, the surgeon will expand the parameters of the wide incision and remove more skin.

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

After removing the SSM infected skin, the surgeon will typically perform a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy to see if SSM cells have spread into your lymph node system.

The lymph node system is part of the circulatory system which carries lymph and immune system cells throughout the body. Cancer cells entering the lymph node system is a very dangerous condition since they will also spread throughout your body by the circulatory system.

A blue dye and a radioactive tracer are injected into your lymph node system by the sentinel lymph node. The sentinel lymph node is typically the first node in the lymphatic system that cancer cells attach themselves to as they travel around the circulatory system. If the blue die and radioactive material show the presence of cancer cells, the lymph nodes immediately around the cancerous site will often be removed.


Most times the surgery and biopsies do not require an overnight stay in a hospital, and you will be allowed to go home. You will typically be given some bandages and instructions on how and when to replace them. The surgeon may also prescribe medication to help control any pain and discomfort you might experience. You will also typically make an appointment with your doctor at this time to discuss the surgery and whatever follow-up treatment will be necessary to treat any cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of your body.