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J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012 Mar;66(3):438-44. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2011.06.019. Epub 2011 Dec 22.

Surgical margins for melanoma in situ.

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Zitelli and Brodland, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15232, USA.



A controversy in the treatment of melanoma in situ is the required width of surgical margin. The currently accepted 5-mm margin is based on a 1992 consensus opinion, despite data since then showing this is inadequate.


We sought to develop guidelines for predetermined surgical margins for excision of melanoma in situ.


A prospectively collected series of 1072 patients with 1120 melanoma in situs was studied. All lesions were excised by Mohs micrographic surgery with frozen-section examination of the margin. The minimal surgical margin was 6 mm, and the total margin was calculated by adding an additional 3 mm for each subsequent stage required. The minimum surgical margin that would successfully remove 97% of all tumors was calculated. Local recurrence was also tabulated.


In all, 86% of melanoma in situs were successfully excised with a 6-mm margin; 9 mm removed 98.9% of melanoma in situs. The superiority of 9-mm to 6-mm margins was significant (P < .001). Gender, location, and diameter did not affect results. Recurrence rate for this set of patients treated with Mohs micrographic surgery was 0.3% (n = 3).


Margins less than 6 mm were not studied. This is a referral center for melanoma in situ and 10% of tumors were previously treated before presentation to our clinic.


The frequently recommended 5-mm margin for melanoma is inadequate. Standard surgical excision of melanoma in situ should include 9 mm of normal-appearing skin, similar to that recommended for early invasive melanoma.

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