What is Chemosurgery?

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  • Written By: Amanda Dean
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Chemosurgery is a medical procedure that uses harsh chemicals to destroy unwanted tissue. This is often done as an anti-aging cosmetic procedure known as a chemical peel. Chemosurgery can also be used to remove cancerous, infected, or otherwise harmful tissues. This procedure is most often done on the skin's surface, but some surgeons use chemotherapy internally on the digestive tract and brain tissues.

As more procedures are developed, people turn to cosmetic surgery to reduce the effects of aging. Chemical peels remove the outer layers of skin to reduce the appearance of scars, wrinkles, and other skin blemishes. Cosmetic chemosurgery is an outpatient procedure that involves a liquid applied to the mouth and eye areas. The face is then covered with a mask that will remain in place for one to two days. The end result should be tighter skin with fewer noticeable blemishes.

Cosmetic chemosurgery can be quite painful. The harsh chemicals can cause a burning sensation during treatment. After the process is complete, many patients experience discomfort, tingling, and itching while the skin is healing. One the mask has been removed the skin usually has the appearance of a deep sunburn and may be swollen for a week or two.


This type of surgery also has practical medical uses. A doctor may perform chemosurgery to remove skin cancer tumors and precancerous lesions, for example. This procedure, also known as Mohs surgery, was developed in the 1930s. Chemosurgical excision of tissue can be more time consuming than traditional surgery, but can be carefully controlled at microscopic levels so that it harms much less healthy tissue than traditional excision. This procedure also seems to have a lower occurrence of cancer regrowth than other means of cancer removal. Chemosurgery may be used in combination with traditional surgery, radiation, and internal chemotherapy.

Gangrene and other skin infections may also be treated with chemosurgery. This treatment can be used to carefully remove necrotic or other tissues in infections that may otherwise lead to amputations. This type of procedure can be used to remove warts, ulcers, and other maladies that are unresponsive to conventional treatments. While using chemicals to destroy dead tissue generally results in patients with less disability than traditional surgery and treatments, it is rarely elected as a surgical method, as very few doctors are trained in chemosurgical procedures.

Medical practitioners also have applied chemosurgery to internal maladies as well as topical cancers and infections. Some studies have shown this procedure to be effective in treating brain cancer and Parkinson's disease as well. Using chemicals allows surgeons to carefully target affected neural cells, while sparing as much brain function as possible.

The bowel is another target for chemosurgical procedures. In some cases this may be the only method that can treat gangrene infections in the bowel. Chemosurgery also shows promise in treating colon cancer and gastrointestinal lymphoma. The digestive tract can be difficult to operate on since it's tissues are difficult to mend. Chemosurgery creates less collateral damage and may be able to preserve digestive functions that would be otherwise destroyed in surgery.


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