What are the Different Types of Skin Cancer Surgery?

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  • Written By: M. DePietro
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 04 April 2020
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Surgery is often one of the main treatments for skin cancer. There are a few types of skin cancer surgery, including excision, Mohs surgery, cryosurgery, laser surgery, and electrodessication. The type of surgery recommended will depend on several factors, such as the type of skin cancer, stage of the disease, and age of the patient.

Melanoma, which is the most serious of the skin cancers, is often treated with excision surgery. This procedure involves removing the entire cancerous tumor at once, along with some surrounding tissue. In some cases, the surrounding lymph nodes are also removed. If the area removed is large enough, skin grafting may be needed to close the wound.

In some instances of melanoma, Mohs surgery may be performed, although it is most often used for the treatment of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. This type of skin cancer surgery is considered less invasive than excision surgery. It is usually performed on an outpatient basis without the need for general anesthesia.

During Mohs surgery, a layer of skin tissue is removed and examined for abnormal skin cells. If cancer cells are found, the next thin layer is removed, and an exam is repeated. Layers are removed until they do not have any cancer cells. Removing layers one at a time allows for quicker healing and less scaring.


Another type of skin cancer surgery involves freezing the cancerous tissue. Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to destroy the skin cancer. Small incisions are made into the skin and an instrument called a cryoprobe is inserted. Liquid nitrogen is than deposited on the cancer. Cryosurgery freezes and destroys the cancer cells. This procedure may be an option when other types of skin cancer surgery can not be performed.

Laser surgery for skin cancer may be an option if the cancer is small or not very deep. The laser is directed at the area of the tumor to kill the cancer cells. Although the laser beam can be directed to remove the skin at different levels, it is most often used when the cancer is superficial. When the laser removes deeper layers of skin, more scarring generally results.

Another option for superficial skin cancer is electrodessication. In this type of skin cancer surgery, the cancer cells are scrapped with a special instrument and burned with electrical currents. It is usually only performed on skin cancer that is considered small.


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