All types of skin cancers differ in appearance, tissue structure and level of aggressiveness. At UCLA, we treat a comprehensive array of skin cancer types and precancerous lesions. Learn more about the conditions we treat.
For more information about our dermatologic surgery procedures, please call to schedule a consultation with one of our dermatologists.
Dermatologic Surgery at UCLA: Treatments We Offer
Learn more about our comprehensive surgical treatments for all types of skin cancer:
- Mohs micrographic surgery
- Surgical excision
- Curettage and electrosurgery
- Radiation therapy
- Topical skin cancer therapy
Mohs micrographic surgery (known as MMS or Mohs surgery) mainly treats the most common forms of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Mohs surgery enables your surgeon to remove tissue in stages, precisely identifying and removing tumor cells while preserving the healthy surrounding tissue. Cure rates for the Mohs technique approach 98 percent, the highest of all treatments for skin cancer.
Our fellowship-trained dermatologic surgeons perform Mohs surgery in an outpatient setting. In many cases, patients need only two or three layers. Some may require more treatments to completely remove cancer cells and possibly repair the surgical wound.
As with any surgical procedure, Mohs surgery leaves a scar. After the entire tumor is removed, your physician evaluates the wound and discusses treatment options with you, including:
- Allowing the wound to heal naturally
- Repairing the wound through surgery
For more details about preparing for Mohs surgery, read about Mohs Micrographic Surgery Frequently Asked Questions and Mohs Micrographic Surgery and Excision Post-Treatment Instructions.
Surgical excision involves removing a visible skin cancer lesion plus a small amount of surrounding tissue for examination. Surgical excision can be used to:
- Completely remove the lesion to surgically cure the cancer
- Take a tissue sample of a suspicious lesion for biopsy
Our expert surgeons perform surgical excisions in ways that maximize the cosmetic outcome and minimize scarring and functional impairment. Surgical excision is a common treatment for removing:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Malignant melanoma
- Other benign or malignant skin growths on the trunk or extremities
At UCLA Dermatology, our surgeons usually remove skin cancers and other tumors on the head and neck through Mohs micrographic surgery.
Curettage is a surgical treatment that involves mechanical scraping of tissue with a sharp instrument. Electrosurgery uses heat from an electric current to burn, cut or coagulate tissue. Our dermatologic surgeons use these two treatments in combination to treat:
- Nonmelanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma)
- Other benign lesions on the trunk or extremities
Using curettage and then electrosurgery targets the entire lesion plus a margin of surrounding tissue to effectively treat the involved area. The resulting wound heals naturally over a few weeks without the need for sutures.
Radiation therapy (RT) uses high-energy rays or particles to eliminate, shrink or slow the growth of cancer cells. This treatment is effective for tumors that are very large or in locations difficult to treat with surgery. It is also helpful for patients in poor health who are unable to tolerate surgery.
RT can be used alone or in combination with other treatments. Our dermatologic surgeons work closely with our Radiation Oncology department at UCLA to develop individualized treatment programs for patients suitable for this treatment.
Cryosurgery involves applying a freezing agent, liquid nitrogen, directly to the skin to destroy skin growths. Liquid nitrogen damages tissue through cycles of freezing and thawing cells. Normal skin cells then replace and heal the area naturally. Temporary redness and stinging may briefly occur over the treatment area while the lesion crusts and peels off over one to two weeks.
At UCLA Dermatology, our physicians commonly use cryosurgery for:
• Benign growths such as seborrheic keratosis, verruca vulgaris, verrucous keratosis and lentigines
• Precancerous growths such as actinic keratosis
• Some cases of superficial nonmelanoma skin cancers: Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma
Precancerous and cancerous skin growths can be treated with topical skin cancer agents. Skin-based agents preserve the healthy tissue around growths while treating growths in one of two ways:
- Directly targeting cancerous cells (chemotherapy agents)
- Stimulating the immune system to destroy cancerous cells (biological agents)
UCLA dermatologists use anti-cancer agents formulated as creams, gels or lotions applied directly to areas of the skin for a certain period of time. As the agents work, affected areas of skin may become red, scaly or crusty and may itch, sting or burn. After treatment, normal skin cells quickly heal the involved areas.