NCCN Guidelines for Patients
Melanoma, Version 1.2014
Overview melanoma treatments Side effects of cancer treatments
Side effects of cancer
A side effect is an unplanned or unwanted physical
or emotional condition caused by treatment. Each
treatment for melanoma can cause side effects.
Some side effects are more common than others.
How your body will respond to treatment can’t be
fully known. You may have different side effects than
someone else. To learn about all the side effects of a
treatment, talk with your doctor. Common side effects
of treatments for melanoma are described next.
Side effects of surgery
The risk and severity of side effects from surgery for
melanoma depend on many factors. This includes the
type of surgery, extent of surgery, and the size of the
A wide excision is surgery that removes the entire
melanoma tumor along with some normal-looking
tissue around its edge. Side effects of this surgery
include pain, swelling, and scarring. Pain and swelling
are usually temporary and should only last for a few
weeks after surgery. Scars can be a lasting side effect
Sentinel lymph node biopsy
This surgery removes the sentinel lymph node—
the first lymph node to which cancer cells will likely
spread from the primary tumor. Possible side effects
may include numbness, pain, bruising, and fluid
buildup near the biopsy site. Serious side effects such
as lymphedema are rare.
Lymph node dissection
A lymph node dissection is surgery to remove
several or all lymph nodes in the area near the first
(primary) melanoma tumor. Common side effects of
this surgery include pain, numbness, limited arm or
leg movement, and lymphedema—swelling due to
buildup of lymph fluid.
Normally, lymph flows in one direction toward the
heart. Lymph node surgery can disrupt the normal
flow of lymph and cause it to build up in the limb
(arm or leg). The buildup of lymph causes the arm
or leg to swell. This is called lymphedema and it is
the most serious side effect of lymph node surgery.
Lymphedema may be temporary or permanent. There
is no way to know who will develop it or when it will
develop. It can happen just after surgery or months to