One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, making it the most common cancer in the United States, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Yet it’s also one of the most treatable cancers. Even melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has a 99% five-year survival rate when it’s detected early.
If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, surgery is usually the only treatment that’s required. (That’s if the cancer is caught early and hasn’t spread.) While relatively routine, there are some important things you should discuss with your dermatologist before any kind of skin cancer surgery.
How should I prepare?
Most skin cancer surgery – including MOHS surgery, a precise technique that’s often used for areas on the head and neck – doesn’t require general anesthesia. Still, it’s important to ask your dermatologist if there are any medications or supplements you should stop taking beforehand.
Blood thinners have the highest potential for impacting your surgery and recovery, but certain nonprescription supplements, such as fish oil, vitamin E, and ginkgo, can cause extra bleeding.
What’s the recovery going to be like?
Because skin cancer surgery is fairly routine, most don’t associate it with downtime the way they would other surgeries, but it can be invasive and require a recovery period.
The extent of the physical limitations following your surgery will depend largely on where the skin cancer is. Wounds generally heal better when the skin isn’t constantly moving. So, if the cancer is on your hand, arm, or shoulder, your dermatologist may ask you to limit your exercise for a brief period to help facilitate healing.
What kind of scar should I expect?
It’s an understandable concern, especially if your skin cancer’s on your face, but it’s challenging for any doctor to give you an accurate sense of scar size before your surgery, even with MOHS, which is designed to create as small a wound as possible.
If the scar will be in a highly visible spot, ask your dermatologist how soon after your surgery you can begin treating it and what the best option will be. Rest assured, there are plenty of options, ranging from lasers to silicone strips to scar creams.
If you’re prone to developing keloid scars, mention it to your dermatologist beforehand so that they can discuss specific ways to minimize the risk.
What’s the likelihood of developing skin cancer again?
Some treatments have higher cure rates than others. The chances of skin cancer recurring after treatment also hinges on certain characteristics of the cancer and you, the patient. That said, once you develop skin cancer, your risk of having it again – even if it’s a different kind or it appears elsewhere on your body – is higher.
So it’s all the more important that you apply sunscreen daily after your surgery and regularly self-monitor your skin. You’ll also need to see your dermatologist for skin checks more frequently.