Surgical management of primary cutaneous melanomas of the hands and feet

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Surgery

Publication Date


Document Type



Adolescent; Adult; Aged; Aged, 80 and over; Female; *Foot; *Hand; Humans; Male; Melanoma; Middle Aged; Retrospective Studies; Skin Neoplasms




OBJECTIVE: The purpose of the study was to investigate the surgical management of cutaneous melanomas of the hands and feet.

SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Prior studies suggest that patients with melanomes > 1-mm thick should be treated with excision with a 2-cm margin and undergo elective lymphadenectomy in selected circumstances. These recommendations are based primarily on data from melanomas of the trunk and extremities. Melanomas of the hands and feet are less common and less well studied. They pose a surgical challenge because primary wound closure often is difficult, and the incidence and management of regional node metastases are unclear.

METHODS: Charts of patients with melanomas of the hands or feet treated at the Massachusetts General Hospital between 1980 and 1994 were reviewed retrospectively. Local recurrence rates and the incidence of regional node metastases were analyzed as a function of histology, margin of excision, and microscopic thickness of the melanoma.

RESULTS: Data from 116 patients (39 men, 77 women) with melanomas of the hands (n = 26) and feet (n = 90) were evaluated. Pathologic diagnoses were: acral lentiginous melanoma (48 patients); subungual melanoma (13 patients), and skin of dorsum of the hand or foot (n = 55). Digital amputation was required in all 13 patients with subungual melanoma to maintain local control; still, nodal metastases developed in 46% of patients within 1 year. Seventy-one percent of patients with acral lentiginous melanoma presented with lesions > or = 1.5 mm, and nodes or systemic disease or both developed in 56% of patients. Acral lentiginous melanoma lesions < 1.5-mm thick were treated principally by excision with a 1-cm margin; a local recurrence or metastases did not develop in any of the patients. None of the patients with melanomas on the dorsum of the hand or foot < 1.5-mm thick had a local recurrence, but regional or systemic disease developed in > 50%. Local control in patients with lesions > 1.5-mm thick frequently required skin grafting or amputation. The majority of patients with melanomas > or = 1.5 mm in thickness undergoing elective lymph node dissection had histologically positive nodes for melanoma.

CONCLUSIONS: Melanomas of the hands and feet < 1.5-mm thick have a low incidence of nodal metastases and are treated effectively with wide excision of the primary with a 1-cm margin. Thicker melanomas are associated with a > 50% rate of regional or systemic failure. In the absence of metastatic disease, these individuals should undergo local excision with a 2-cm margin and intraoperative lymphatic mapping followed by lymphadenectomy if the sentinel node is positive.


Ann Surg. 1997 May;225(5):544-50; discussion 550-3. Link to article on publisher's website

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Annals of surgery


At the time of publication, Jennifer Tseng was not yet affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID