Stage 1

Patient Guide

STAGE I MELANOMA

What is Stage I melanoma?

Stage I melanoma is the thinnest form of the disease, with no spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body (metastasis). At this stage the cancer cells are only in the first two layers of the skin — the epidermis and dermis. It is sometimes known as a localised melanoma, as it has not spread beyond the original tumour site. Stage I melanoma can be divided into two subgroups: Stage IA and Stage IB.

 

Stage IA means all of the following:

  • the melanoma is less than 0.8mm thick
  • the layer of skin over the tumour is not broken (it is not ulcerated)

Stage IB can mean either:

  • the melanoma is less than 0.8mm thick and the skin is broken (ulcerated)

Or

  • the melanoma is between 0.8mm and 2mm and the skin is intact (without ulceration)

Note that if you have a Stage 1B tumour, you may be offered a sentinel lymph node biopsy, which we cover below.

How is Stage I melanoma diagnosed?

The diagnosis is made by testing a skin biopsy, (where a small sample of skin taken). Although a doctor may suspect melanoma when the biopsy is performed, this cannot be known for sure until the biopsy has been tested and examined under a microscope. This commonly takes two weeks. 

Who will be involved in my care?

Your case and biopsy will be discussed by a Local Skin Cancer Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT). 

This team includes the following members:

  • Dermatologist (skin doctor)
  • Plastic surgeon
  • Specialist cancer nurse
  • Pathologist (who reviews the biopsy) 
  • Possibly other types of medical support staff.

>See our page who is involved in your care

What can I expect after a diagnosis of Stage I melanoma?

Stage I melanoma treatment is usually straightforward. If the results confirm that it is Stage 1A melanoma, you will have a minor surgery to remove any tumour remaining after the biopsy.

This is known as a wide local excision.

Wide load excision: What to expect

  • The melanoma is removed with minor surgery by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon
  • It is sometimes carried out under local anaesthetic in a doctors surgery
  • An area of skin of between 1cm to 2cm around where the melanoma is situated is also removed (known as a surgical margin)
  • The surgical margin increases in size depending on how thick the tumour is
  • Stitches will be used to close up the skin
  • This type of small operation will leave a linear, or straight-line scar
  • At sensitive sites, such as the face or hands, different options should be explained to you to suit your individual needs to minimise scarring
  • Options to avoid scarring could include a local flap (nearby spare skin is moved around) or a skin graft (a piece of your skin is used as a dressing

See more detailed information on a wide local excision

Follow up appointments

After the removal of a Stage IA melanoma you should have an initial follow-up appointment, where you will be shown what to look out for in future and to address any questions or concerns that you may have. You may also have further appointments for the doctors to examine you.

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

After the biopsy results, if your doctor thinks you have a Stage IB tumour, you may be offered a procedure called a sentinel lymph node biopsy to confirm if the melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes. The ‘sentinel’ lymph node is the first one to receive drainage from a primary tumour, and the site where melanoma commonly spreads to first. This involves removing and examining the lymph node for the presence of cancer cells.

If this biopsy is negativeyour melanoma will be now be considered as Stage IA. If your sentinel lymph node biopsy is positive, your melanoma will then be considered as a Stage III and you would be eligible for adjuvant treatment. An oncologist will discuss these treatments with you.

Note that a wide local excision will often be done at the same time as a sentinel lymph node biopsy.

If you don’t have a sentinel lymph node biopsy, your Stage IB melanoma will usually be seen every three months for three years and then every six months for another five years.

>See more detailed information on sentinel lymph node biopsy

Stage I further considerations

If you are diagnosed with Stage I melanoma you are unlikely to have further recurrence of your disease, and almost everyone is cured by their surgery.

Stage 1 melanoma: Questions you may have for your doctor

  • How was it confirmed that I have Stage 1 melanoma?
  • Will I have a wide local excision?
  • How can scarring be minimised for the procedure?
  • Was there any ulceration on the tumour?
  • If yes, then is it Stage IB, and will I need a sentinel lymph node biopsy (SNLB)?
  • Do you have a recommendation for a surgeon to carry out an SNLB?
  • Do I have any other moles of concern on my body?
  • Will I need a follow up?
  • How do I reduce the risk of developing another melanoma?

NB: The information we provide here should be used as part of a discussion with your medical team about the most appropriate treatment for your melanoma. Patients should also be aware that they may not be suitable for all the diagnostic interventions and treatments we outline.