What is skin cancer removal?

Skin cancer removal includes various procedures to treat cancerous lesions, growths and tumors of the skin. Skin cancer removal alone may be appropriate when skin cancer is local and has not spread. It is usually part of a larger treatment plan when skin cancer has spread or is at high risk of spreading.

Skin cancer removal can be a minor procedure or a major surgery with risks and potential complications. It is only one method used to treat skin cancer. Discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.

Types of skin cancer removal

There are many types of skin cancer removal procedures including: 

  • Cryosurgery freezes the tumor with liquid nitrogen. Because the cure rate is lower with this technique, your doctor may only use it in specific cases. This includes precancerous lesions and for patients who have bleeding disorders or who cannot tolerate anesthesia.
  • Dermabrasion removes the top layer of skin using friction. This technique may only be appropriate for very superficial lesions that have not affected deeper skin layers.
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage involves scraping off the tumor using a curette, a spoon-like instrument with a sharp ring on the end. Your doctor then cauterizes the wound with electric current to stop the bleeding and destroy any remaining cancer cells. He or she may repeat the process several times.
  • Laser surgery uses a laser beam to cut out the tumor. This technique minimizes bleeding and gives your doctor good control over the depth of the incision. Your doctor may also use laser surgery to remove precancerous lesions from the skin’s surface.
  • Mohs micrographic surgery involves removing the tumor layer-by-layer and examining each layer under a microscope for cancer cells. Your doctor will continue removing layers until he or she cannot find any cancer cells in the layers. This technique removes the least amount of normal tissue and best preserves the area’s appearance.  It is a good technique for areas such as the ears or face.
  • Shave excision involves shaving the tumor or lesion off the skin’s surface with a thin blade. This procedure is appropriate for superficial cancers that have not affected deeper skin layers.
  • Simple or wide excision involves cutting out the tumor, some underlying tissue, and some surrounding healthy tissue. The extent of the incision will depend on the size and depth of the tumor.  This may involve closing the wound with stitches.

Other procedures that may be performed 

Your doctor may recommend other procedures to treat skin cancer. These include::

  • Biologic therapy or immunotherapy boosts or stimulates your body’s immune system to help fight cancer.
  • Chemotherapy is medication that kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy for skin cancer is often topical, meaning you apply it to the skin. If skin cancer has spread, systemic chemotherapy in the form of a pill or IV medication may be necessary.
  • Lymph node surgery involves either a biopsy or removal of nearby lymph nodes.
  • Photodynamic therapy combines special light-sensitive drugs with specific wavelengths of light. Your doctor injects the drug into your tumor and exposes it to the light. This produces a reaction that kills cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Reconstructive surgery rebuilds and restores body or facial structures disfigured by removing the cancer. 
  • Skin grafting is the surgical transplantation of skin and its underlying tissues from one area to another. Your doctor may use skin grafting to help close your wound or minimize scarring.

Why is skin cancer removal performed? 

Your doctor may recommend skin cancer removal to treat cancerous and precancerous skin conditions. Cancer occurs when old or damaged cells divide and multiply uncontrollably. Cancer cells rapidly reproduce even when your body signals them to stop. 

Types of skin cancer include:

  • Actinic keratosis is a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal cells, which are the cells at the base of the epidermis (outermost layer of skin). This is the most common form of skin cancer and usually occurs on body areas that get sun exposure.
  • Melanoma begins in the melanocytes (pigment-making skin cells). While melanoma is highly curable in its early stages, it can spread quickly and become deadly.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous cells, which are the cells at the surface of the epidermis. This type of skin cancer is most common on body areas that get sun exposure. However, it can occur anywhere on the body.