Skin Cancer Surgery & Surgical Oncology Procedures
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Surgery for Skin Cancer
Surgery is the primary treatment for skin cancers. A dermatologist will typically perform skin cancer surgery to remove a localized skin cancer. For skin cancers that have not spread, surgery may be curative, and no other treatment may be needed.
In general, the skin cancer cells are removed along with a small amount of normal skin (known as the margin). This is often performed using a local anesthetic. If nearby lymph nodes are enlarged and your doctor is concerned that the skin cancer cells may have spread, he or she may want to take a sample of the sentinel lymph node (biopsy), or remove the node altogether, to look for cancer cells.
Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy for Melanoma
For patients with melanoma, a special type of lymph node biopsy, known as a sentinel lymph node biopsy, is frequently performed. In this procedure, your doctor will remove one specific lymph node, known as the sentinel node, which receives the lymph fluid draining from the tumor. If the sentinel node shows no sign of cancer, no additional surgery is necessary.
However, if melanoma cells are found in the sentinel node, the remaining lymph nodes in the region are usually removed. A sentinel lymph node biopsy for melanoma is a less invasive procedure than a traditional lymph node dissection, and is associated with fewer side effects such as lymphedema (fluid build-up and swelling of the affected area).
Surgery may also be performed if the cancer cells have spread to distant parts of the body. At CTCA, our experienced, highly skilled surgical oncology teams and surgeons regularly perform several types of skin cancer surgery to help to control the cancer, alleviate symptoms and improve patient quality of life.
Other Skin Cancer Surgeries & Therapies
In some cases, different forms of therapy may be used to remove a localized skin cancer. Like surgery, these therapies remove or kill the cancer cells, but do not involve cutting the skin. These techniques are most often used for treating localized basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas. Non-surgical procedures include:
- Cryotherapy: Also known as cryosurgery, this technique uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the cancer cells. This is usually only used for small cancers.
- Photodynamic Therapy: In this technique, a special chemical is applied directly to the tumor, or injected into the bloodstream. This chemical makes the cancer cells sensitive to certain types of light, which is then focused on the tumor, causing the cancer cells to die.
- Topical Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of drugs that kill cancer cells. In this form of therapy, a cancer-killing drug is placed directly on the skin cancer. However, because the drug can only kill the cells it contacts, and cannot penetrate deeper into the skin, it is usually only used for very superficial cancers.
- Immune Response Modifiers: Certain drugs such as imiquimod or interferon can boost the body’s natural immune response against the cancer, and may be applied to or injected directly into the cancer. As the immune system reacts, it destroys the cancer cells and causes the tumor to shrink.
- Laser Surgery: This is a technique that uses a laser beam to destroy cancer cells, and may be used to treat very superficial skin cancers.
- Reconstructive Microsurgery: In rare cases of extensive or more aggressive cancers, a very large area of skin may be removed. Reconstructive microsurgery might be needed to cover the affected area.
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