Surgery is the primary treatment for most skin cancers. A surgeon will typically perform skin cancer surgery to remove a localized spot skin cancer. For skin cancers that have not spread, surgery may be curative, and no other treatment may be needed.
In general, during skin cancer surgery the cells of the skin cancer are removed along with the margin, a small amount of normal skin the surrounds the skin cancer. This is a minor surgery and is often performed using only local anesthetics. If nearby lymph nodes are enlarged and your doctor is concerned that the skin cancer cells may have spread, he or she may want to perform a lymph node biopsy to look for cancer cells.
Other Skin Cancer & Pre-Cancer Therapies
In some cases, nonsurgical forms of therapy may be used to remove or destroy a localized skin cancer. These techniques are most often used for treating small, early stage basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas. Non-surgical procedures include:
- Cryotherapy: Also known as cryosurgery, this technique, used for small skin cancer, uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the cancer cells.
- Immune Response Modifiers: Certain drugs, such as imiquimod or BCG vaccine, are may be applied to or injected directly into the skin cancer. These drugs can boost the body’s natural immune response against skin cancers.
- Photodynamic Therapy: A special chemical that makes the skin cancer cells sensitive to certain lights is applied directly to the area or injected into the bloodstream. Then a light is focused on the area, causing the cancer cells to die.
- Topical Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of drugs that is placed directly on the skin cancer that kills cancer cells.
After skin cancer surgery, you may need a skin graft or other reconstructive surgery for cosmetic reasons or to restore function, depending on how large the cancer was and if it was a late-stage tumor.