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What Is Curettage and Electrodesiccation?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Commonly used for the removal of skin lesions, curettage and electrodesiccation is a medical procedure that only requires local anesthetic. Basically, the abnormal cells are removed from the body using a combination of physical scraping and electric current. Generally, it is the early signs of certain skin cancers, and non-cancerous growths that are treatable in this way.

Skin cancers tend to develop as abnormal collections of cells in the skin that have characteristics like an unusual color, an undefined boundary or an abnormal shape. Growths that are not cancerous can be identified by the excess presence of cells which may be cosmetically unappealing. Removal of skin lumps or growths, while perhaps improving the appearance of the patient's skin, can also potentially stop the spread of disease.

Curettage refers to the scraping off of cells from the skin. The tool that doctors use to do this is similar in appearance to a spoon, but the edges are sharp instead of blunt. Typically, growths on the skin are not really part of the skin, but are attached to the skin, so scraping off the abnormal tissue does not severely damage healthy skin. As the curettage can hurt, the patient usually receives an injection of local anesthetic beforehand.

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Electrodessication is the other part of the curettage and electrodesiccation procedure. This is the second step of the treatment, which involves applying electrical energy to the remaining tissue. The heat produced by the electrical energy cauterizes the blood vessels in the area and prevents bleeding. Any remaining abnormal cells are often killed by the heat as well. A variation on electrodessication is the use of liquid nitrogen, which produces the same effects but with a freezing technique, rather than heating.

Overall, the procedure is relatively simple and safe. Due to the scraping and cauterization of the skin, a small pale scar can remain after the treatment. If the cells removed are cancerous, the person has a low risk of recurrence, especially after further treatments. Non-cancerous issues that are treatable with the process include warts, skin tags or cosmetically unappealing areas of cells such as solar keratoses. Skin cancers like carcinomas are also commonly treated with this procedure, especially in the early stages, but it is not beneficial for melanoma.

The cells that the curettage and electrodesiccation procedure have removed from the body may then be sent for microscopic analysis. As different types of cells, and different types of cancers appear distinctive under the microscope, an analyst can check what type of problem caused the lesion in the first place. If the test results show that the cells taken from the lesion are cancerous, then the person may have to undergo further treatment, which may include more sessions of curettage and electrodesiccation.

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