Surgery for Skin Cancer
Small skin cancer lesions may be removed through a variety of techniques, including simple excision (cutting it away), electrodesiccation and curettage (scraping the tumor and then burning the tissue with an electric needle), and cryosurgery (freezing the area with liquid nitrogen).
Larger tumors, lesions in high-risk locations, recurrent tumors, and lesions in cosmetically sensitive areas are removed by a technique called Mohs micrographic surgery. For this technique, the surgeon carefully removes tissue, layer by layer, until cancer-free tissue is reached.
Malignant melanoma is treated more aggressively than just surgical removal. To ensure the complete removal of this dangerous malignancy, 1-3 cm of normal-appearing skin surrounding the tumor is also removed. Depending on the thickness of the melanoma, neighboring lymph nodes may also be removed and tested for cancer. The sentinel node method uses a mildly radioactive substance to identify which lymph nodes are most likely to be affected.
After Skin Cancer Treatment
Most skin cancer is cured surgically in the dermatologist's office. Of skin cancers that do recur, most do so within three years. Therefore, follow up with your dermatologist as recommended. Make an appointment immediately if you suspect a problem.
If you have advanced malignant melanoma, your oncologist may want to see you every few months. These visits may include total body skin exams, regional lymph node checks, and periodic chest X-rays. Over time, the intervals between follow-up appointments will increase. Eventually these checks may be done only once a year.
Skin Cancer Prevention
You can reduce your risk of getting skin cancer by following these guidelines:
- Limit sun exposure. Attempt to avoid the sun's intense rays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Apply sunscreen every day. Use a sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 both before and during sun exposure. Select products that filter both UVA and UVB light. The label will tell you.
- If you are likely to sunburn, wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants and a wide-brimmed hat.
- Avoid artificial tanning booths.
- Conduct periodic self-exams.
Monthly skin self-exams improve your chances of finding a skin cancer early, when it has done a minimum of damage to your skin and can be treated easily. Regular self-exams help you recognize any new or changing features.
- The best time to do a self-exam is right after a shower or bath.
- Do the self-exam in a bright room; use a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror.
- Learn where your moles, birthmarks, and blemishes are, and what they look like.
- Each time you do a self-exam, check these areas for changes in size, texture, and color, and for ulceration. If you notice any changes, call your primary care provider or dermatologist.
Check all areas of your body, including "hard-to-reach" areas. Ask a loved one to help you if there are areas you can't see.
- Look in the full-length mirror at your front and your back (use the hand-held mirror to do this). Raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
- Bend your elbows and look carefully at your palms, your forearms (front and back), and upper arms.
- Examine the backs and fronts of your legs. Look at your buttocks (including the area between the buttocks) and your genitals (use the hand-held mirror to make sure you see all skin areas).
- Sit down and examine your feet carefully, including the soles and between the toes.
- Look at your scalp, face, and neck. You may use a comb or blow dryer to move your hair while examining your scalp. You may also enlist the help of a friend or family member.