Here’s a scary statistic: about 20% of all Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Skin cancer can be successfully treated if it’s caught early enough, but sometimes those treatments lead to other problems, such as scarring or disfigurement. When this happens on your face, it can be especially disconcerting.
Facial plastic surgeons can reconstruct a patient’s facial appearance following skin cancer treatment using a variety of techniques, including skin grafts or flaps and scar revision. While the scar or defect may not be completely corrected, it can be concealed well enough to return a patient’s face to its normal appearance.
Different Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer comes in three basic types. The first two types, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, affect the two layers of skin just beneath the surface. Squamous cell carcinoma develops in the squamous cell layer where new skin cells make their way toward the surface, while basal cell carcinoma develops in the basal cell layer where new skin cells are created. These types typically remain in the same area from where they originate. The third type is melanoma, which is more serious and considerably more aggressive than the other two types. Melanoma can spread throughout the entire body if it isn’t treated early enough.
Skin Cancer Treatment
Regardless of the type, skin cancer usually presents itself as a lesion, a discoloration of the skin tissue, or a change in skin texture. To treat skin cancer, dermatologists begin by removing the cancerous tissue. This can be done in a number of ways, including freezing, scraping, and excising the tissue.
One technique that is commonly used is known as the Mohs technique. This treatment involves strategically mapping and removing very thin layers of skin, one at a time, and then examining each to determine if cancer cells are still present. If the cancer is still there, another layer is removed until there is no cancer visible. This technique also helps dermatologists to map out the skin cancer to see where and how it has spread from its origin point. Mohs can involve removing several millimeters of skin to get rid of the cancer, including one to three millimeters of healthy skin as insurance that all the cancer cells have been removed.
How Facial Reconstruction Helps
Because skin cancer can appear anywhere and grow in unpredictable patterns, treatments can leave patients with large areas of affected skin. If left to heal on its own, patients may have large, disfiguring scars that could even leave a noticeable depression on the face. Plastic surgeons can use skin flaps or skin grafts to prevent those scars from forming.
Skin flaps involve the use of extra soft tissue around the excised area to cover it up. The healthy tissue is basically lifted and placed over the area and then sutured into place. This method only works with small areas where there is sufficient surrounding healthy tissue for the flap.
For larger areas or areas that do not have enough surrounding healthy tissue, plastic surgeons may use skin grafts instead. Unlike a skin flap, a graft involves the removal of a patch of skin from another location and its transfer to the excised location. The graft is usually taken from behind the ear, but it can be taken from anywhere that has a similar skin tone to the face and isn’t very noticeable. When performed correctly, the graft blends in well with the face and doesn’t leave any obvious marks.
Scar Revision Surgery
In a perfect world, plastic surgeons are able to perform their facial reconstruction immediately after the patient has had their treatment. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and patients are left with terrible scars. Scar revision is a procedure used by plastic surgeons to improve how scars look so they are less obvious.
This procedure can be accomplished with a variety of methods. The scar can be moved to a more inconspicuous location by lifting the skin and suturing it into place. In other circumstances, where the scar is larger and thicker, the scar tissue can be completely excised and the incision closed to create a new, fine line scar. Other times, a skin graft can be used to recreate the healthy soft tissue.
Facial Reconstructive Surgery with Dr. Bustillo
Restoring a normal appearance after skin cancer treatment is no small feat. It requires a great deal of skill, artistry, and experience to make a patient appear as if they never had cancer to begin with. Dr. Andres Bustillo, a facial reconstructive surgeon located in Miami, is one of the leading specialists in the field for the area. He has trained with some of the best plastic surgeons in the world and utilizes the most current techniques available for his patients. Dr. Bustillo helps his patients restore their appearance so they appear natural and healthy.