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Skin Cancer Surgery

An abnormal mole or skin lesion—unusual change in the skin—can be a sign of skin cancer. Gundersen has specialists trained to diagnose and treat all forms of the disease.

Most skin lesions that are biopsied are not cancerous. If it is diagnosed as skin cancer, it’s divided into one of two major groups:

  • Nonmelanoma, which includes basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer
  • Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer

The location of the skin cancer may determine who will provide your care at Gundersen. For more serious cases of melanoma, it is treated in our surgery department.


The majority of skin cancers are the nonmelanoma type. Nonmelanoma skin cancer usually appears as a growth or sore spot that doesn’t heal or a change to an existing mole or growth. Nonmelanoma is often caused by an overexposure to the sun. It can also be caused by artificial sources of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, such as tanning beds or sunlamps.

Nonmelanoma surgeries we offer

Mohs micrographic surgery - If you've been diagnosed with skin cancer, you probably have many questions running through your mind. One of your primary concerns may be how your skin cancer can be treated. Patients with skin cancer may be candidates for a state-of-the-art treatment at Gundersen Health System called Mohs surgery.

Mohs surgery is a state-of-the-art surgery for people with skin cancer.

Mohs surgery is a microscopically-controlled skin cancer surgery. The goal is to get the highest possible cure rate while preserving the most normal skin. The surgery has a 98 percent cure rate, the highest of any treatment available.

Mohs surgery is more often used on the face, nose, ears, eyelids, lips, fingers and toes. It is also used where skin cancer has been treated before but has come back. It is rarely done on arms, back or legs.

During Mohs surgery, the surgeon cuts out what seems to be the whole cancer. Sometimes tiny roots reach deeper than the human eye can see. To make sure all the cancer is gone, the surgeon studies a slice of tissue under a microscope. This shows if there are cancer cells hidden at the edge of the wound. The surgeon removes more skin in those areas and takes new samples.

Plan to spend up to a half day at the clinic. It depends on how many samples are taken. You wait 30 to 40 minutes while each one is viewed. This is the way to make sure all cancer is removed.


Melanoma is the most serious skin cancer, but it is also less common than other forms. The primary symptom of any skin cancer is usually a mole, sore, lump, or growth on the skin.

Early detection is important to find melanoma in its early and most curable stage of development. These methods can help detect skin cancer early:

  • Annual total body skin exam by a dermatologist
  • Monthly self-skin exam for new moles or changes in existing moles using the ABCD system. Especially important during and after the peak solar period from June through October.

Melanoma surgeries we offer

The first step in treating melanoma is the removal of the cancer. The amount of tissue that needs to be removed depends on the size of the melanoma. Following the removal of the cancer, you may need reconstructive surgery for cosmetic reasons or to restore function.

Surgery may also be done to remove your lymph nodes. This is done to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.

A melanoma diagnosis requires a more aggressive treatment. That’s why Gundersen started a Melanoma Tumor Board. It brings different specialists together monthly to review new cases and treatment plans to provide the best care for skin cancer patients in a timely fashion.

How to prevent skin cancer

Wearing sunscreen is important in preventing skin cancer, but sunscreen may not prevent moles from developing. The best protection includes:

  • Wearing FDA-approved solar protective clothing
  • Avoid direct exposure of unprotected skin from 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. June 1 through mid-October
  • Generously applying sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” with sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 every two hours you are outside—or more often if you are active or in water.
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