What Is Skin Cancer Removal Surgery?

A cancer diagnosis is very difficult to accept. Understanding that treating your skin cancer may result in scars or disfigurement can also be troubling.

The dermatologists at Chicago Skin Clinic understand your concerns and will guide you through treatment and explain the resulting effect on your health and appearance. Much like any form of cancer, skin cancer may require surgery to remove the cancerous growth.

We can surgically remove cancerous and other skin lesions using specialized techniques to preserve your health and your appearance.

Although no surgery is without scars, your dermatologist will make every effort to treat your skin cancer without dramatically changing your appearance.

Surgical Procedures for Basal & Squamous Cell Skin Cancers

Basal or squamous cell skin cancers may need to be removed with procedures such as electrodesiccation and curettage, surgical excision, or Mohs surgery, with the possible reconstruction of the skin and surrounding tissue.

  • Basal cell cancer (BCC) is less likely to become aggressive, but if it does, our doctors may use surgery and other therapies to treat it.
  • Squamous cell cancer (SCC) can be aggressive, and our surgeons may need to remove more tissue. They may also recommend additional treatments for advanced squamous cell cancer, such as medications or radiation therapy—energy beams that penetrate the skin, killing cancer cells in the body.


This is a surgical procedure that your dermatologist can often perform during an office visit. It involves numbing the area to be treated and cutting out any remaining tumor, plus some normal-looking skin around it.

Like the skin biopsy, this removed skin is examined under the microscope. This may be done at a laboratory or by your dermatologist. The doctor who looks at the removed skin must see whether the normal-looking skin is free of cancer cells.

If not, more skin will need to be removed. The remaining skin is carefully stitched back together, which will leave a scar.

Curettage & Electrodesiccation

In this treatment, the doctor removes cancer by scraping it with a long, thin instrument with a sharp looped edge on one end (called a curette). The area is then treated with an electric needle (electrode) to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

This process is often repeated once or twice during the same office visit. Curettage and electrodesiccation is a good treatment for superficial (confined to the top layer of skin) basal cell and squamous cell cancers. It will leave a scar.


This treatment uses liquid nitrogen to freeze cancer cells, causing the cells to die.

Medicated Creams

Creams containing a drug, such as imiquimod or 5-fluorouracil, can treat early BCC. A patient applies the medicated cream at home as directed by his or her dermatologist.

A cream containing a chemotherapy drug, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), can treat SCC in the earliest stage.

Mohs Surgery

Named for the doctor who developed this surgery, Mohs (pronounced "moes") is a specialized surgery used to remove some skin cancers. It offers the highest cure rate for difficult-to-treat basal cell cancers and squamous cell cancers. Your dermatologist will tell you if Mohs is right for you.

If Mohs is recommended, this is what you can expect: The surgeon will cut out the tumor plus a very small amount of normal-looking skin surrounding the tumor. While you wait, the Mohs surgeon uses a microscope to look at what was removed. The surgeon is looking for cancer cells. If necessary, the Mohs surgeon will continue to remove a very small amount of skin and look at it under the microscope. This continues until the surgeon no longer sees cancer cells. The remaining skin is carefully stitched back together.


BCC: Nearly every basal cell cancer can be cured, especially when the cancer is found early and treated.

SCC: With treatment, most SCCs are cured. Early treatment is recommended. When allowed to grow, this skin cancer can grow deep, destroying tissue and even bone. In some cases, SCC spreads to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. This can cause serious health problems.