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What Is Curettage and Desiccation?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 17, 2024
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Curettage and desiccation is one of several methods used to remove cancerous and non-cancerous skin lesions. The surgeon uses a curette, which is a spoon-shaped instrument, to cut away growth on the skin and some surrounding tissue. Curettage is followed by applying electrical energy to cauterize the incision to stop bleeding and kill any remaining cancer cells. Curettage and desiccation might be used to excise basal cell and squamous cell cancers.

Basal cell skin cancer represents the most common form treated with curettage and desiccation. These slow-growing lesions begin in deep layers of tissue and generally do not spread to other parts of the body. They might appear as sores that fail to heal or as pink or white bumps on the skin. Some basal cell cancers look waxy, while others contain tiny blood vessels visible on the sore.

These cancers might bleed for no apparent reason, and appear most often in areas exposed to sunlight, such as the hands, face, and neck. A doctor using curettage and desiccation cuts away any infected skin and usually orders a biopsy to confirm cancer. This procedure usually works best on small lesions where minimal scarring occurs because the surgical site is not sutured during curettage and desiccation.

Squamous cell cancer usually affects surface skin and might show up anywhere on the body, including areas not exposed to ultraviolet rays of the sun. Curettage and desiccation commonly removes these crusty patches of skin and their pink or red roots. These lesions might hurt when pressed and typically start as actinic keratoses, defined as scaly patches of skin that feel rough and may develop into cancer.

Skin cancer diagnosed as melanoma usually isn’t treated through curettage and desiccation. Melanoma occurs less frequently, but causes more deaths. It starts in deep layers of the skin and spreads rapidly to other areas of the body, including the internal organs. This type of skin cancer usually develops as a dark brown or black lesion, often where a mole exists. These lesions commonly grow with ragged edges and asymmetrical shapes. The color typically varies within the sore, which might be raised.

All three forms of skin cancer might be prevented by limiting exposure to sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when harmful rays do the most damage. Skin can be protected by clothing or use of a sunscreen to block ultraviolet rays. A periodic examination of the body for lesions is advised, especially in older people, those who use tanning beds, and patients exposed to radiation for other health problems.

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