What are the different types of surgeries used to treat skin cancer?

There are several methods of surgery for skin cancer. The method your doctor uses depends mainly on the type of skin cancer, the size of the cancer and where it was found on your body.

Your doctor can further describe these methods of surgery:

Excisional skin surgery: This is a common treatment to remove any type of skin cancer. After numbing the area of skin, the surgeon removes the growth (tumor) with a scalpel. The surgeon also removes a border (a margin) of normal skin around the growth. The margin of skin is examined under a microscope to be certain that all the cancer cells have been removed. The thickness of the margin depends on the size of the tumor.

Mohs surgery (also called Mohs micrographic surgery): This method is often used for basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. After numbing the area of skin, a specially trained surgeon shaves away thin layers of the tumor. Each layer is examined under a microscope. The surgeon continues to shave away tissue until no cancer cells can be seen under the microscope. In this way, the surgeon can remove all the cancer and only a small bit of healthy tissue. Some people will have radiation therapy after Mohs surgery to make sure all of the cancer cells are destroyed.

Electrodesiccation and curettage: This method is often used to remove a small basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer. After the doctor numbs the area to be treated, the cancer is removed with a sharp tool shaped like a spoon (called a curette). The doctor then uses a needle-shaped electrode to send an electric current into the treated area to control bleeding and kill any cancer cells that may be left. This method is usually fast and simple. It may be performed up to three times to remove all of the cancer.

Cryosurgery: This method is an option for an early-stage or a very thin basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer. Cryosurgery is often used for people who are not able to have other types of surgery. The doctor applies liquid nitrogen (which is extremely cold) directly to the skin growth to freeze and kill the cancer cells. This treatment may cause swelling. It also may damage nerves, which can cause a loss of feeling in the damaged area.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.
Common types of skin cancer surgery techniques include:
  • Cryosurgery: freezes the tumor, which kills it.
  • Simple excision: cuts the cancer from the skin in a football shape, along with a border of some of the healthy tissue around it.
  • Mohs micrographic surgery: removes the cancer while sparing healthy tissue. A specialized surgeon removes the cancer and maps it out, then examines the skin under a microscope, only taking additional pieces if any cancer remains. This method allows a complex repair to be done that day and know that the cancer is gone and that a second procedure will not be required. This type of procedure is used for recurrent skin cancers or on delicate areas of the face, such as the nose.
  • Lymph node surgery: If a doctor is concerned that skin cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes, he will perform a lymph node dissection and check the nodes for signs of cancer under a microscope (a biopsy).
  • Laser therapy: uses a highly focused beam of light to destroy the cancer cells with minimal bleeding, swelling and scarring and little damage to surrounding tissue. Laser therapy is usually used to treat superficial skin cancers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.