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Surgery for Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer: What You Need to Know

Surgery for Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer: What You Need to Know

More than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. It’s the most common cancer in the country, and it affects people of every age, gender, and skin color.

Skin cancer is one of the most visible forms of cancer, but unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated. As a surgical oncologist, Elvira Klause, MD, specializes in skin cancer care.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re doing our part to help you care for your skin as we head into the summer season. If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer or you simply want to learn more about protecting your skin, here’s what you need to know about surgery for skin cancer.

How common types of skin cancer differ

Most skin cancers are one of three types: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Melanoma is considered the most dangerous type because the cancer can easily spread to other parts of the body.

Both basal cell and squamous cell are non-melanoma skin cancers, but they still require treatment to protect your health. About 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with BCC or SCC each year.

Cancer develops when cells in your body start growing uncontrollably. In skin cancer, this growth occurs in one or more layers of your skin. Basal cell and squamous cell both affect the top layer of your skin, which is called the epidermis.

They are typically the result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. The most common sources of UV light are the sun and artificial tanning beds.

Because skin cancer develops with UV exposure, it often develops on sun-exposed parts of your body. Your head, face, neck, shoulders, arms, and legs are some of the most common spots where non-melanoma skin cancer might develop.

When to consider surgery for non-melanoma skin cancers

If you’re diagnosed with BCC or SCC, you need treatment to protect your health. The risks of these non-melanoma cancers are lower than those of melanoma, but BCC and SCC can grow into deeper layers of skin and eventually affect bone or other tissues.

Identifying and addressing non-melanoma skin cancers as early as possible ensures treatment is as effective as it can be. Dr. Klause may recommend surgery depending on the type of skin cancer you have, its stage, and its location. 

In many cases, skin surgery is an effective method of removing cancerous cells and lowering your risk of complications.

What to expect with non-melanoma skin cancer surgery

Dr. Klause specializes in a method of skin cancer treatment called curettage and electrodesiccation. She often recommends this procedure for many cases of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, because it removes cancerous cells and helps prevent future growth.

In curettage, Dr. Klause surgically removes the cancerous growth from your skin. She uses a special blade, or curette, to scrape away any remaining layers of cancer. Once that step is done, she proceeds to electrodesiccation. She uses an electric needle to kill any cancer cells she may have missed in curettage.

The goal of curettage and electrodessication is to stop cancerous growth, and it's generally quite effective. But the procedure often leaves a flat scar after the area heals. If it’s on your face, plastic surgery may offer cosmetic improvements once the cancer is treated.

Take a proactive approach to skin cancer prevention this season. Book a consultation with Dr. Klause to learn more about taking care of your body’s largest organ. Call our San Clemente, California, office at 949-393-2595 or request an appointment online now.

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