Updated evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of melanoma: definitive excision margins for primary cutaneous melanoma

Michael J Sladden, Omgo E Nieweg, Julie Howle, Brendon J Coventry and John F Thompson
Med J Aust 2018; 208 (3): 137-142. || doi: 10.5694/mja17.00278
Published online: 19 February 2018


Introduction: Definitive management of primary cutaneous melanoma consists of surgical excision of the melanoma with the aim of curing the patient. The melanoma is widely excised together with a safety margin of surrounding skin and subcutaneous tissue, after the diagnosis and Breslow thickness have been established by histological assessment of the initial excision biopsy specimen. Sentinel lymph node biopsy should be discussed for melanomas ≥ 1 mm thickness (≥ 0.8 mm if other high risk features) in which case lymphoscintigraphy must be performed before wider excision of the primary melanoma site. The 2008 evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for the management of melanoma ( are currently being revised and updated in a staged process by a multidisciplinary working party established by Cancer Council Australia. The guidelines for definitive excision margins for primary melanomas have been revised as part of this process.

Main recommendations: The recommendations for definitive wide local excision of primary cutaneous melanoma are:

  • melanoma in situ: 5–10 mm margins
  • invasive melanoma (pT1) ≤ 1.0 mm thick: 1 cm margins
  • invasive melanoma (pT2) 1.01–2.00 mm thick: 1–2 cm margins
  • invasive melanoma (pT3) 2.01–4.00 mm thick: 1–2 cm margins
  • invasive melanoma (pT4) > 4.0 mm thick: 2 cm margins


Changes in management as a result of the guideline: Based on currently available evidence, excision margins for invasive melanoma have been left unchanged compared with the 2008 guidelines. However, melanoma in situ should be excised with 5–10 mm margins, with the aim of achieving complete histological clearance. Minimum clearances from all margins should be assessed and stated. Consideration should be given to further excision if necessary; positive or close histological margins are unacceptable.

  • Michael J Sladden1
  • Omgo E Nieweg2,3
  • Julie Howle4
  • Brendon J Coventry5
  • John F Thompson2,3

  • 1 University of Tasmania, Launceston, TAS
  • 2 Melanoma Institute Australia, Sydney, NSW
  • 3 University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW
  • 4 Westmead Hospital, Sydney, NSW
  • 5 Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide, SA



The guidelines were developed by Cancer Council Australia and Melanoma Institute Australia with financial support from Skin Cancer College Australasia. We acknowledge the Cancer Council Australia and Melanoma Institute Australia project staff, in particular Lani Teddy and Jackie Buck, who were involved in the systematic review.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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