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Often basal cell and squamous cell cancers can be cured by minor surgery. For skin cancers with a high risk of spreading, surgery might be followed by other treatments like radiation or chemo.

There are many different kinds of surgery. The type that’s best for you depends on the type of skin cancer, how large it is, where it is on the body, and other factors.

  • Excision: The tumor is cut out with a scalpel, along with some normal skin around it. The remaining skin is carefully stitched back together. This will leave a scar.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation: The cancer is removed by scraping it with a long, thin tool called a curette. The area is then treated with an electric needle to destroy any remaining cancer cells. The process is often done more than once. This treatment will leave a scar.
  • Mohs surgery: The doctor removes very thin layers of skin and then checks them under a microscope. Layers of skin are removed until they do not show cancer cells. This process is slow, often taking several hours, but it means that more normal skin around the tumor can be saved.
  • Lymph node surgery: If lymph nodes near the cancer are growing larger, it could be a sign that the cancer has spread to these nodes. In that case, the nodes will be biopsied (see “How are basal and squamous cell skin cancers found?”), or many nodes might be removed in a more thorough operation called a lymph node dissection. The removed nodes will be looked at under a microscope to see if they have cancer cells. This operation is more involved than surgery on the skin. You would most likely have general anesthesia (you are put into a deep sleep).
  • Skin grafting and reconstructive surgery: If a large skin cancer has been removed, it might not be possible to stretch the nearby skin enough to stitch the edges of the wound together. Skin grafts taken from other parts of the body or other methods might be used to help the wound heal and help the treated skin look as normal as possible.

Last Medical Review: 05/06/2015
Last Revised: 02/01/2016