Skin Cancer Surgery Procedure
University of Florida cosmetic surgeon explains skin cancer surgery and how reconstruction can help minimize scarring
UF surgeons understand that patients preparing for this procedure are concerned for their health, and have questions about the lasting effects of melanoma removal.
Skin cancer surgery is a straightforward process. In most cases, once the damaged cells are removed, preventive care to limit sun exposure can help you avoid a recurrence.
UF skin cancer surgeons in Gainesville also employ methods to minimize scarring using your existing skin. Combined with melanoma removal, these procedures can reduce the impact skin cancer has on your life.
If you’ve received a skin cancer diagnosis and your doctor has recommended surgery, read on to learn more about the procedure you will need to undergo and what you can expect to occur.
1. Skin cancer surgery consultation and planning
Sitting down with your University of Florida skin cancer surgeon is the first step in the process. Your surgeon will perform an examination, explain the recommended treatment for the type of skin cancer you have, and evaluate your overall health to verify that you are suitable candidate for surgery.
Your surgeon needs to know any medications or treatments you are currently receiving and any conditions that may be relevant to your surgery, as well as drug allergies and previous surgical procedures. Full disclosure is in the best interest of your health, so answer questions honestly. If you are a smoker, consume alcohol regularly or use recreational drugs, withholding this information from your skin cancer surgeon could endanger your health unnecessarily.
Consultation is also your opportunity to ask our Gainesville skin cancer specialists any questions you may have. Write down your concerns and bring this information with you to your appointment.
2. Local or general anesthesia administration
Whether you receive local or general anesthesia depends on the type and location of your skin cancer. Smaller tumors are sometimes removed in our office. In these cases, you will be injected with a local anesthetic and remain awake for the procedure. If the area being removed is large or appears on a more sensitive area of the body, general anesthesia will be administered intravenously at a surgical facility.
3. Removing the affected cells
The surgeon will begin by cutting around the affected area that is visible on the skin. In some cases this may be all that’s required for removal. However, the visible area may not be indicative of the scope of the melanoma.
If your surgeon suspects that the abnormal cells cover a larger area, he will request a frozen section procedure. The incision will remain open while a pathologist uses a microscope to look for a “clear margin.” This refers to an area unaffected by cancerous growth. Your surgeon will continue to remove skin until this clear margin is found, in order to be certain the entire melanoma has been removed.
4. Reconstructing the skin
For larger melanomas or those that appear in prominent areas, plastic surgery specialists may employ one of two types of reconstructive procedures.
If possible, the surgeon will use a flap of adjacent skin to cover the affected area. This healthy skin is positioned over your wound and sutured in place. University of Florida skin cancer surgeons take special care during this reconstructive procedure to follow the natural lines of your skin with the sutures. This helps camouflage the wound and minimize scarring.
If adjacent skin is not an option, your surgeon may perform a skin graft. In this procedure, skin from a less visible part of the body is removed and sutured over the wound.
5. Post-op and recovery
After your surgery, the incision site will be bandaged to prevent infection or injury. Your Gainesville cosmetic surgeon will provide you with instructions for when and how you should clean and re-dress your wound. You will also be given medication — usually topical — that will provide further protection for your wound and aid the healing process.
If you received a skin graft as part of your reconstruction, both incision sites will require care.
And if you are given general anesthesia for your procedure, expect to spend time in a recovery room. Medical staff will monitor your condition as you awake, and will determine when it is safe for you to go home. Your surgeon will have informed you to expect sedation prior to the procedure, so be sure you’ve made arrangements for transportation, as you will be unable to drive until the anesthesia has completely left your system.
In the weeks and months following your skin cancer surgery, be extremely careful when moving the affected area. Stretching the skin around the incision could reopen your wound, increasing your risk of infection and making scarring more pronounced.
One or several follow-up appointments may be scheduled so that stitches can be removed and your doctor can evaluate your healing and determine if any further reconstructive procedures are necessary.
UF skin cancer surgeons at Shands at the University of Florida can answer any questions you have preceding and following your surgery.
Do not hesitate to ask, as being a well-informed patient is one of your greatest tools to aid in your recovery. Make an appointment today to discuss your individual situation and learn more about skin cancer treatment options for you.