Family Health: Specialized surgery minimizes scarring from skin cancer

Skin cancer is so common that one in five people in the U.S. will develop it in their lifetime. If you are diagnosed with a skin cancer, your first questions are likely to be about treatments and how effective they are.

The answers are encouraging: Most of these cancers are eliminated by surgically removing them.

However, many skin cancers occur on the face, ears, neck and other highly visible areas, and the resulting scar can be troublesome. Having your surgery with a plastic and reconstructive surgeon can mean minimal scarring, and scars from previous surgeries can often be reduced as well.

Treating skin cancer

The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Depending on the type you have, along with its size and location on your body, you may have one of these surgeries:

  • Excision. The skin is numbed with a local anesthetic and the lesion is cut out with a surgical blade. Some surrounding normal skin is also removed to make sure no cancer cells remain. The skin is then stitched back together. This procedure can also be used to remove tissue for a biopsy. If so, no further surgery may be necessary, even if the biopsy shows that the lesion was cancerous. Excision is typically used for melanoma skin cancer, which is the most serious kind. In this case, more tissue is removed.
  • Shave excision. This is usually done for a biopsy, though it is sometimes used to remove the cancer. It involves shaving off the top layers of skin with a surgical blade.

Minimizing your scar

Any surgery will cause some scarring. However, plastic and reconstructive surgeons are trained to treat skin cancers in the most effective way while using special techniques to leave the smallest possible scar. In some cases the scar can be hidden so that it is nearly invisible. You may need a plastic and reconstructive surgeon if:

  • Your skin cancer is large.
  • It’s in a sensitive area, especially around your nose, eyes, lips or ears.
  • You scar easily.
  • You had a previous skin cancer surgery that left an obvious scar.
  • The skin and/or tissue surrounding the skin cancer feels tight.

A number of treatments can improve existing scars from skin cancer surgery or other causes. Treating the skin’s surface with dermabrasion, laser therapy, chemical peels or bleaching agents can help with some scarring. Injectable treatments can fill depressed scars. For deeper scars, the best method may be to surgically remove the old scar and reclose the incision with a combined surgical excision and laser resurfacing treatment.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in adults in the U.S. You can learn more about avoiding it, and about treatments, by visiting the American Cancer Society at


Dr. Ryan Marshall is a board-certified, plastic and reconstructive surgeon at LIFT Aesthetic Surgery, which is located in Building 3 at Community Medical Center.