What are Satellite Lesions?

Mary McMahon

Satellite lesions are secondary lesions that form in close proximity to a primary lesion. Finding these lesions on an exam can be an important diagnostic clue, as they are associated with some specific conditions, and they can also be used in the staging and evaluation of disease. The presence of satellite lesions generally indicates a disease is more advanced, as it has had more time to spread in a localized area.

Satellite lesions may be subtle and require a biopsy so samples can be viewed under a microscope.
Satellite lesions may be subtle and require a biopsy so samples can be viewed under a microscope.

Lesions in general are abnormal tissue changes. They can be associated with a number of things, ranging from inflammation associated with cuts and burns to the proliferation of cells associated with cancer. Often, lesions are visible to the naked eye or can be identified on an X-ray or other imaging study. Sometimes, they are subtle enough to require a biopsy so samples can be taken and looked at under a microscope.

Topical medications may be helpful in treating satellite lesions.
Topical medications may be helpful in treating satellite lesions.

Get started

Want to automatically save money while you shop online?

Join 3 million Wikibuy users who have found 
$70 million in savings over the last year.

Wikibuy compensates us when you install Wikibuy using the links we provided.

In the case of satellite lesions, the lesions are usually visible upon examination. They take the form of small splotches or markings around a larger main lesion, with coloration and other characteristics clearly linking them to the primary lesion. They are close enough to be demonstrably associated with the primary lesion, rather than being entirely separate and new. Conditions like melanoma and a skin disease called pinta are often associated with satellite lesions.

Some cancers are diagnosed by the presence of lesions.
Some cancers are diagnosed by the presence of lesions.

When surgeons take suspected cancerous cells for biopsy, they will check for the presence of satellite lesions. They will also take clean margins with the goal of allowing the pathologist to confirm the presence or lack of satellites. The pathology report will usually provide information about whether satellites were found and how large they were. This information is used to determine how aggressive the cancer is and how far it has spread. The presence of satellites usually indicates a more aggressive cancer, in addition to complicating treatment, as the satellites need to be removed along with the primary lesion.

Lesions may develop on the liver.
Lesions may develop on the liver.

For things like skin diseases, satellite lesions are common. As an area of inflammation, infection, or irritation develops, it can spread unevenly across skin in the surrounding area. A smattering of markings similar to that seen in the main lesions can be observed and the smaller lesions will usually develop crusts, itch, and show other signs of being related to the main lesion. When treating skin diseases with topical medications, it is important to make sure the satellite lesions are completely covered. Otherwise, the disease may persist or recur because it is not thoroughly treated.

Lesions may be identified on an X-ray.
Lesions may be identified on an X-ray.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


When looking at an obvious skin disease, how does one differentiate a lesion from satellite lesions? How does one know what a lesion actually is at all?

I had a student who came to me clearly upset and asked me to take a look at what she referred to as a rash on her stomach. I was a little uncomfortable with this, but I knew her well and her parents.

I looked and was shocked at what I saw. This was not just a typical poison ivy or oak rash. This was multiple (probably 20 or more) lesions that were violently red across her entire abdomen and seemed to go on up onto her torso.

She said that they itched and burned. Lesion just seems like the appropriate word, but what could this possibly be? One lesion with many satellite lesions, or something that is not a lesion at all.

I tried my best to convince her to go to a doctor, but her parents do not have health insurance and do not qualify for public assistance.


I had a friend who was only 23 years old when he was diagnosed with melanoma. He had a lesion, and several satellite lesions eventually surrounded it.

He went to treatments for months to help stop the cancer growth, but it did eventually go to his lungs as well. Before that had happened, though, he had his arm amputated in a last ditch effort to stop the cancer cells from spreading.

Who knew that something as innocuous as a lesion could grow into something so serious, and eventually take the life of such a young father and husband?

Post your comments
Forgot password?