Cancer Surgery


What is cancer?

The American Cancer Society defines cancer as a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. Cells are the building blocks of the human body and all living things, and are characterized by their ability to reproduce themselves. They do so by dividing; thus, one cell becomes two, two become four, etc. Normal cells divide in a regulated fashion to repair and replace old cells and help the body heal itself.

Cancer cells are distinguished by the haphazard manner in which they grow. These cells tend to accumulate in one place and form abnormal masses, or tumors. Although some, called benign tumors, remain harmlessly in one place, cancerous, or malignant, tumors destroy the area of the body where they originated and begin to spread to other parts of the body. Here, they cause more destruction and begin to form new growths. If left untreated, cancer can metastasize (spread) to other areas of the body and result in death.

Skin cancer is common and many of our surgeons practice out-patient surgery to remove skin cancer, described below on this page.

Cancer is generally treated by destroying, controlling, or removing a malignant tumor and any surrounding tissue that may contain precancerous cells. The three most common types of cancer treatment are radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and oncologic surgery.

Info about cancer surgery

The most common cancers our surgeons treat are described on other surgery pages on this site:

Skin cancer prevention and risk

Anyone is potentially at risk for developing skin cancer, regardless of age, race, or gender; however, there are certain factors that can increase your vulnerability to cancerous and pre-cancerous growths, including:

  • Fair skin, light eyes, or many freckles
  • Having been severely sunburned as a child
  • Family history of melanoma or other skin cancer
  • Having normal-looking moles or moles that have changed in appearance
  • Having more than 50 moles
  • A weakened immune system
  • Frequent sun exposure or use of tanning beds

If you have any of these traits, it is important that you pay close attention to changes in your skin, and take extra precautions to avoid prolonged sun exposure.

Skin cancer surgery

Skin cancer is the most frequently occurring form of cancer in the country, and usually develops in areas of the body with increased sun exposure. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal and squamous cell carcinoma are highly treatable, while melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Still, all forms of skin cancer are treatable if detected early.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most frequently occurring type of skin cancer, and usually appears as a red patch, pearly or translucent growth, crusty sore that won’t heal, or an inexplicable scar on the face, ears, back, scalp, or upper body. If detected early enough, basal cell carcinoma can usually be removed with a simple biopsy.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer, usually caused by excessive sun exposure. Squamous cell carcinoma can appear on the lips, face, neck, hands, back, scalp, or anywhere else exposed to the sun, and usually resembles a shiny, waxy bump or a flat, flesh-colored or brown lesion. Fortunately, this type of skin cancer is rarely serious if caught and removed early. However, if left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can be life threatening.


Melanoma is the rarest and most serious form of skin cancer, and generally appears as a black or brown asymmetrical spot on the neck, back, or face. However, melanoma can appear anywhere on the body in many forms, and must be removed promptly to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body.

Warning signs of melanoma include:

  • A mole or brown spot that is asymmetrical, has an uneven border, contains more than one shade or color, or is larger than ΒΌ of an inch in diameter
  • A mole or brown spot located anywhere on the body that changes in color, size, shape, or texture, or that appears bloody, crusty, or flakey
  • Firm, shiny, dome-like bumps anywhere on the body

If you develop any of these symptoms, contact your physician or dermatologist as soon as possible for an examination.

Skin cancer removal is an outpatient surgery that generally takes no more than a few hours; however, because certain types of surgery require tissue analysis, we recommend that you set aside an entire day for the surgery.

Excision involves surgically removing the cancerous growth and surrounding areas of healthy skin, known as the margins. The size of the margins will vary depending on what stage the cancer has reached. With more advanced cancers, the area of healthy skin removed will be larger.

After skin cancer surgery

  • There is usually some degree of swelling after excision surgery, particularly when cancer is removed from the eye and mouth areas.
  • Any swelling will diminish within a week or so.
  • You may wear a large bandage for one to two days, after which a smaller bandage may be placed.