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Curettage and Electrosurgery for Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer


Surgery Overview

Curettage is the process of scraping skin with a spoon-shaped instrument (curette) to remove skin tissue. Electrosurgery is the burning of skin tissue with an electric current that runs through a metal instrument or needle. Electrosurgery may be done after curettage to control bleeding and destroy any remaining cancer cells. The wound is then covered with an antibiotic dressing.

The skin is numbed with a local anesthetic before the procedure. Curettage and electrosurgery may be repeated once or twice or may be combined with other procedures, such as cryosurgery.

What To Expect After Surgery

Recovery may take 3 to 6 weeks, depending on the extent of surgery. Keep the wound clean and dry. A scab will form over the area.

Why It Is Done

Curettage and electrosurgery are done to:

  • Treat cancers on the outermost skin layer (superficial), especially if they are in an area where appearance is not a concern.
  • Remove a small basal cell carcinoma.
  • Remove a squamous cell carcinoma in its earliest, noninvasive form (in situ, Bowen).
  • Remove a new skin cancer.

How Well It Works

Treatment with curettage and electrosurgery for skin cancer has a cure rate of nearly 99 out of 100 for basal cell cancer that is less than 1 cm (0.4 in.) wide. The cure rate is about 84 out of 100 if the cancer is larger than 2 cm (0.8 in.) wide.1 This procedure is most effective on new skin cancers. It is less successful for recurrent skin cancers where scar tissue has developed.

Risks

Risks of using curettage and electrosurgery for skin cancer include:

  • Skin changes, such as scarred or tight skin, slightly indented or raised skin, or change in skin color to red or white.
  • Bleeding.
  • Pain.
  • Infection.
  • Recurrence of skin cancer.

What To Think About

Curettage and electrosurgery is a common treatment method for a basal cell carcinoma less than 5 mm (0.2 in.) in diameter.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)Click here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.

References

Citations

  1. Carucci JA, Leffell DJ (2008). Basal cell carcinoma. In K Wolff et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1036–1042. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRandall D. Burr, MD - Dermatology
Last RevisedOctober 1, 2010

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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