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Surgery for Melanoma

Possible Side Effects

The side effects of melanoma surgery depend mainly on the size and location of the tumor and the extent of the operation.
Some possible side effects of this type of surgery include:
  • Pain
  • Scarring
  • Lymphedema.
Although patients may have some pain during the first few days after surgery, this pain can be controlled with medicine. People should feel free to discuss pain relief with the doctor or nurse. It is also common for patients to feel tired or weak for a while after surgery. The length of time it takes to recover from an operation varies for each patient.
Scarring may also be a concern for some patients following surgery for melanoma. To avoid causing large scars, doctors remove as little tissue as they can (while still protecting against recurrence). In general, the scar is a small line (often 1 to 2 inches long), and it fades with time. How noticeable the scar is will depend on:
  • Where the melanoma was
  • How well the person heals
  • Whether the person develops raised scars called keloids.
When a tumor is large and thick, the doctor must remove more surrounding skin and other tissue (including muscle). Although skin grafts reduce scarring caused by the removal of large growths, these scars will still be quite noticeable.
Surgery to remove the lymph nodes from the underarm or groin may damage the lymphatic system and slow down the flow of lymphatic fluid in the arm or leg. Lymphatic fluid may build up in a limb and cause swelling (lymphedema). The doctor or nurse can suggest exercises or other ways to reduce swelling if it becomes a problem.
Lymphedema makes it harder for the body to fight infection in a limb after nearby lymph nodes have been removed, so the patient will need to protect the arm or leg from cuts, scratches, bruises, insect bites, or burns that may lead to infection. If an infection does develop, you should see the doctor right away.
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