If you notice an area of skin that appears or feels different from other regions of your body, consider investigating it with the help of a medical professional. Certain irregularities can be early signs of skin cancer, and taking proper precautions can prevent more serious concerns.
While I often work with a patient’s dermatologist to prevent lesions from spreading, my approach to skin cancer removal is different. A dermatologist will typically shave off an irregular area of skin but leave the deeper layers in place. This will provide a diagnosis, but not a cure if the lesion proves to be dangerous. If the lesion needs to be completely removed, the dermatologist will refer the patient to me for a full thickness excision. As a plastic surgeon with expertise in reconstructive procedures, I have the ability to remove all layers of potentially cancerous skin and leave behind a subtle, linear scar. I have some patients who come to me when they know they want the lesion removed, regardless of the diagnosis.
When to Consider Skin Cancer Removal
Fairfax and Northern Virginia patients need to know that they have a problem before they can do something about it. Unfortunately, the symptoms of skin cancer aren’t always obvious. That’s why I tell patients to keep the acronym ABCDE in mind:
- Asymmetry. A portion of the lesion doesn’t match the rest.
- Border. The edges of the area are irregular instead of smooth.
- Color. The color of the lesion isn’t uniform.
- Diameter. The lesion is large or increasing in size.
- Evolving. If the area starts bleeding, crusting, or changing, it is time to take action.
Patients who spend a lot of time in the sun, have a history of sunburns, or have a family history of melanoma should take special care when they notice these symptoms. While other types of skin cancer are more common, melanoma is the most lethal.
What to Expect with Skin Cancer Removal
Some Fairfax and Northern Virginia patients contact my practice because they have a suspicious-looking lesion and want to know more about it. Others have already gotten a biopsy and learned that the area is malignant or pre-malignant. I invite patients to come in for an initial consultation in both cases.
During the visit, I ask about the patient’s medical and skin history, and I conduct an examination of the lesion. I also evaluate whether skin cancer removal is necessary, how much of the area must be removed, and which surgical approach will minimize scarring.
For Smaller Lesions
I perform smaller skin cancer removal procedures in my office. Typically:
- Fairfax and Northern Virginia patients only require local anesthesia or numbing medication in the area of the lesion.
- I make a small incision to remove all of the concerning layers of skin.
- I close the area with stitches hidden beneath the skin, which dissolve on their own.
As part of treatment, my office sends the lesion out for pathology to determine whether it was cancerous. I review these results with patients with a phone call when it is complete. If the lesion was malignant, the cancerous tissue may extend past the area of the surgery. In this case, patients may require an additional procedure.
A patient’s dermatologist may send them to a Moh’s surgeon to use a Mohs approach to treat malignant lesions. In this type of surgery, the dermatologist takes off the least amount of skin he or she can while examining every area removed to determine if they have removed enough to clear the cancerous growth. I then assist by conducting reconstructive surgery. It’s a refined and careful approach that conserves as much skin as possible.
For Larger Lesions
More sizable areas of concern require more planning. In some cases, I can remove the lesion with surgery alone. In other cases, patients require alternative cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, which can shrink the lesion significantly.
With larger lesions, skin cancer removal takes place at a local hospital in the Fairfax and Northern Virginia area or outpatient surgery center under general anesthesia. I take out the lesion and follow the reconstructive plan that the patient and I discussed in the consultation, which may include using skin from another part of the body.
Recovering from Skin Cancer Removal
The type of procedure a patient has determines the length and results of recovery. After smaller skin cancer removal procedures:
- Patients can go about most of their normal daily activities.
- I recommend putting ice on the area if needed as well as taking over-the-counter pain medication for comfort.
- Patients should stay out of the sun as exposure can discolor and thicken scar tissue.
In addition to removing dangerous skin tissue, my goal with surgery is leaving behind a thin line scar that runs a bit longer than the area of the lesion. Over time, the scar should fade and become significantly less noticeable, helping create a more aesthetic appearance. For more information about how to care for the scar and achieve the best looking result, visit my scar page.
If you’ve seen or felt a change in an area of your skin, schedule a consultation with Dr. Jespersen at her office in the Fairfax and Northern Virginia area. Call (703) 992-7969 or complete our contact form.