Almost all cases of skin cancer are fully treatable if the abnormal growth is caught early. Because early intervention is key, scheduling annual skin checks at your dermatology clinic is essential. If your dermatologist finds an abnormal growth during your visit, they often remove it and send it off to the lab for a biopsy during the same visit. Once your dermatology team determines that the growth is cancerous, you might need skin cancer surgery in a fairly short time to fully remove the growth and surrounding tissue. Read on to learn the basics of skin cancer surgery and what you can expect.
Most Common Types
While there are several different types of skin cancer, the three primary forms are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal and squamous cell carcinoma are the types that often develop after too much sun exposure. Growths can form anywhere on your body, although they're most common on your face, neck, chest, and forearms. Even though ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning booths can contribute to melanoma too, you also have a higher risk of developing this type of cancer if you have a family history of it, or if you're exposed to certain environmental contributors. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer.
How It's Removed
In general, all types of skin cancer are removed the same way: by removing the problematic growth. Your dermatologist numbs the treatment area with lidocaine, gently shaves away the growth, and carefully uses an electric needle to burn any potential remaining cancerous cells (electrodesiccation). For a larger growth removal, you might need stitches to close up the incision site.
Depending on your skin cancer diagnosis, your dermatologist might need to perform Mohs surgery. Usually, it's for basal or squamous cell carcinoma. This type of skin cancer surgery, which is completed right in the dermatology clinic, involves removing the cancerous growth layer by layer. After your dermatologist removes each specimen, they carefully map exactly where it came from by looking at the growth underneath a microscope. They continue shaving away the cancerous growth layer by layer, checking each specimen carefully under a microscope each time. The Mohs surgery process is complete when your dermatologist finds that there are no more cancerous cells left in your specimen.
What You'll Feel
Even though skin cancer surgery is indeed a type of surgery, you're completely awake throughout the entire process. Your dermatologist thoroughly numbs the treatment area before getting started. Most men and women report that the initial poke of the needle is the only discomfort they feel, although it only lasts for a split second. Aside from some minor pressure or pulling, you shouldn't feel anything during your skin cancer surgery, even if you're having Mohs surgery. If you do feel pain or discomfort, let your dermatologist know right away. In some cases, particularly during longer procedures like Mohs surgery, lidocaine can wear off and you might need another injection.