What is curettage and electrodesiccation?

A curettage and electrodesiccation, also known as a curettage and desiccation, is a skin cancer treatment used to remove basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. During the procedure, your doctor will scrape the affected skin surface with a curette (a spoon-shaped instrument). After successfully removing the cancerous tissue, your doctor will cauterize the area to increase the chance of success and minimize bleeding.

Why get a curettage and electrodesiccation?

Curettage and electrodesiccation is a treatment option for patients who are not candidates for more invasive surgical procedures. When patients are carefully selected, the cure rate is high.  

Patients who have low risk basal and squamous cell carcinomas that have clear borders are the best candidates for a curettage and electrodesiccation. 

Curettage and electrodesiccation is also used for patients who have a precancerous skin condition called actinic keratosis. Because some of these patients will eventually develop squamous cell carcinoma, your doctor may recommend a curettage and electrodesiccation to remove the precancerous cells.

This procedure can produce a nasty scar, so it is most commonly used on the trunk and other areas of the body where the scars aren’t as easily seen.

If cancer has developed in the hair follicle, a curettage and electrodesiccation may not be effective in removing the tumor. Areas of the body such as the head, armpits, scalp or beard are not typically treated with a curettage and electrodesiccation. It is most commonly performed on the chest, upper arms, back or abdomen.

Risks of curettage and electrodesiccation

Risks associated with curettage and electrodesiccation are typically minimal if performed by an experienced doctor. Complications can include:

  • Pain, swelling, crusting or bleeding at the affected site
  • Scarring that can be painful and itchy long term
  • Recurrence of cancer
  • Additional treatment necessary
  • Cure rate is not as high as other procedures like Mohs surgery

Benefits of curettage and electrodesiccation

Your doctor will discuss all the possible complications associated with a curettage and electrodesiccation before the procedure is scheduled.

For the right patient, there are many benefits of having a curettage and electrodesiccation procedure over other more invasive procedures.  Advantages include:

  • The procedure can be performed in as little as one hour
  • No stitches are necessary
  • A follow-up appointment to remove stitches is not needed

What to expect during curettage and electrodesiccation

A curettage and electrodesiccation is typically an outpatient procedure that can be performed in the doctor’s office. You will be given a medication to numb the affected area, so you do not feel anything. Your doctor will scrape the cancerous cells and then burn the area. Depending on how deep the cells are, your doctor may repeat these steps two to three times. When the area has been cleaned, your doctor will bandage the wound. The wound can appear crusty and ooze fluid for as long as six weeks after the procedure.

Recovery from curettage and electrodesiccation

You will be able to drive yourself home after a curettage and electrodesiccation procedure. Before you leave the office, your doctor will give you detailed instructions on how to care for your wound. It is important to follow these instructions to prevent infection. The affected area will take up to six weeks to heal and will leave a scar. Scars are typically flat and round. 

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