What is Skin Cancer Surgery?

Skin cancer surgery is a procedure to remove cancerous parts of the skin. The goal is to get rid of the cancer while saving as much healthy skin as possible and reducing scarring. Here are some common types of skin cancer surgeries:

  • Excisional Surgery: This is where the surgeon cuts out the cancer along with some healthy skin around it. This method is often used for removing many types of skin cancers.
  • Mohs Surgery: This method is used mainly for cancers that are on the face or other visible areas. The surgeon removes the cancer layer by layer, checking each layer under a microscope until no more cancer cells are found. This helps save more healthy skin.
  • Curettage and Electrodesiccation: This involves scraping off the cancer with a special tool and then using electricity to kill any remaining cancer cells. It’s used for small or surface-level cancers.
  • Cryosurgery: This technique freezes and kills the cancer cells using liquid nitrogen. It’s simple and often used for smaller cancers or precancerous spots.
  • Laser Surgery: A strong light beam vaporizes cancer cells. This is good for treating surface cancers and causes less damage to surrounding skin.
  • Radiation Therapy: While not a traditional surgery, this uses high-energy rays to target and kill cancer cells and is used when actual surgery isn’t possible.

How do you prepare for Skin Cancer Surgery?

  • Pre-Surgery Instructions: Your doctor will provide specific instructions based on the type of surgery you are undergoing. These might include not eating or drinking anything for several hours before the procedure if you will be receiving general anesthesia.
  • Skin Preparation: Avoid applying any lotions, perfumes, or deodorants to the area that will be operated on the day of the surgery.
  • Wear Comfortable Clothing: Choose loose, comfortable clothing on the day of your surgery, preferably items that don’t need to be pulled over your head if the surgery is on your face or upper body.

Why is Skin Cancer Surgery performed?

Skin cancer surgery is performed to achieve two main goals:

  1. Remove Cancer: The primary reason for skin cancer surgery is to completely remove the cancerous cells from the skin. This is crucial to prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body or growing deeper into the skin.
  2. Preserve Healthy Skin: The surgery aims to remove as little healthy skin as possible while ensuring all the cancer is taken out. This helps in faster healing and reduces scarring.

By removing the cancer effectively, skin cancer surgery helps to eliminate the disease from the affected area, ensuring it doesn’t cause further health problems.

What can you expect during Skin Cancer Surgery?


  • Arrival at the Facility: You’ll arrive at the clinic or hospital where the surgery is scheduled. You may need to complete some paperwork and then change into a surgical gown.
  • Preparation by Medical Staff: Nurses or medical staff will prepare you for surgery. This might include cleaning the skin around the surgical area and administering medications or anesthesia.
  • The Surgery:
    • The surgeon will cut out the cancerous tissue along with a small margin of healthy tissue around it to ensure all the cancer is removed. For some surgeries like Mohs, the surgeon may remove the cancer layer by layer, checking each layer under a microscope until no cancer cells are left. This can take an hours.
    • The wound from the surgery will be closed with stitches.
  • Immediate Aftercare: After the cancer is removed, the staff will bandage the area and provide instructions on how to care for the wound. What is the followup and recovery like for Skin Cancer Surgery?

What are the potential costs for Skin Cancer Surgery?

Whether you have insurance and how much it covers can significantly impact your out-of-pocket expenses. Some insurances cover most of the cost if the procedure is deemed medically necessary, but you may still be responsible for copays or deductibles.

What are the potential risks for Skin Cancer Surgery?

  • Infection: The surgery site can become infected, which may require treatment with antibiotics.
  • Scarring: Any surgery that cuts the skin will leave some form of scar, although surgeons try to minimize this as much as possible.
  • Bleeding: There is a risk of bleeding during or after the surgery, which is usually minor but can sometimes require further treatment.
  • Pain: Some pain is expected after the surgery, which can usually be managed with pain relief medications.
  • Allergic Reactions: Rarely, you might have an allergic reaction to anesthesia or other medications used during the procedure.
  • Nerve Damage: If the surgery is near nerves, there is a small risk of nerve damage, which can affect sensation or muscle movement in that area.
  • Recurrence of Cancer: There’s always a risk that not all cancer cells were removed, which could lead to the cancer coming back.

Are there related procedures to Skin Cancer Surgery?

  • Cryotherapy: This method uses extreme cold (usually liquid nitrogen) to freeze and destroy abnormal skin cells. It’s often used for small or early-stage skin cancers.
  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): This treatment involves applying a special drug to the skin, which becomes active when exposed to a specific type of light. It’s used to kill cancer cells and is especially good for surface-level skin cancers.
  • Radiation Therapy: High-energy rays (similar to X-rays) are used to target and kill cancer cells. This is often used if surgery isn’t an option or to treat areas that are difficult to operate on.
  • Topical Medications: Some creams or gels contain drugs that can kill cancer cells or stimulate the immune system to attack the cancer. These are typically used for very superficial types of skin cancer.