Skin cancer is diagnosed by removing all or part of the growth and examining its cells under a microscope. It can be treated by a number of methods, depending on the type of cancer, its stage of growth, and its location on your body.
Most skin cancers are removed surgically, by a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist. If the cancer is small, the procedure can be done quickly and easily, in an outpatient facility or the physician’s office, using local anesthesia. The procedure may be a simple excision, which usually leaves a thin, barely visible scar. Or curettage and desiccation may be performed. In this procedure the cancer is scraped out with an electric current to control bleeding and kill any remaining cancer cells. This leaves a slightly larger, white scar. In either case, the risks of the surgery are low.
If the cancer is large, however, or if it has spread to the lymph glands or elsewhere in the body, major surgery may be required. Other possible treatments for skin cancer include cryosurgery (freezing the cancer cells), radiation therapy (using x-rays), topical chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs applied to the skin), and Mohs surgery, a special procedure in which the cancer is shaved off one layer at a time. (Mohs surgery is performed only by specially trained physicians and often requires a reconstructive procedure as follow-up.)
All of the treatments mentioned above, when chosen carefully and appropriately, have good cure rates for most basal cell and squamous cell cancers and even for malignant melanoma, if it’s caught very early, before it’s had a chance to spread.
You should discuss these choices thoroughly with your doctor before beginning treatment. Find out which options are available to you, how effective they’re likely to be for your particular cancer, the possible risks and side effects, who can best perform them and the cosmetic and functional results you can expect. If you have any doubts about the outcome, get a second opinion from a plastic surgeon before you begin treatment.