Electrodesiccation and Curettage for Skin Cancer

If you've been diagnosed with a skin cancer, your physician may have presented you with various treatment options, such as skin cancer excision, Mohs micrographic surgery, cryotherapy, and electrodesiccation and curettage (abbreviated as ED&C, EDC or ED+C). 

For certain types of skin cancers, the electrodesiccation and curettage may be selected. Electrodesiccation and curettage are a procedure performed in the office setting by dermatologists and other physicians for treatment of pre-cancers and skin cancers. The procedure consists of scraping and "burning" away from the unwanted growth.

This procedure is often used for thin, well-defined cancers which are also relatively small in diameter, as well as pre-cancers. Common diagnoses that this procedure is used for including superficial basal cell carcinomas, actinic keratosis and squamous cell carcinomas in situ. This procedure also does not involve the placement of sutures, or stitches, and may be more appropriate for those individuals for which stitches are not optimal.

Dermatologist examining patient for signs of skin cancer Female dermatologist (30s) examining male patient's skin with dermascope, carefully looking at a mole for signs of skin cancer.
kali9 / Getty Images

What to Expect 

Your surgeon will use an anesthetic to numb the area. This should be the only time you feel pain. Most commonly, lidocaine with or without epinephrine is injected directly into the skin. Let your surgeon know if you have ever had a bad reaction to numbing medication.

What to Tell Your Surgeon Before the Procedure

Tell your physician if you have any implanted electrical devices. Additionally, let your physician know if you have a bleeding disorder and what medications you are taking.

How Long It Takes

The actual procedure does not take much time—usually less than an hour. However, take into account the time it takes to check-in and to get you positioned and prepped for the procedure.

How the Electrodesiccation and Curettage Procedure Is Performed

First, your surgeon will use a sharp curette to scrape the tumor. There is a textural difference between cancer and the normal skin which helps guide your surgeon in terms of the extent of scraping. Next, a device with a needle-like metal tip is used to dry out the tissue using an electric current, in a procedure called electrodesiccation.

How to Take Care of Your Wound

After the procedure, you will have a depressed wound. The wound is often covered with an ointment and covered with a bandage which will stay in place for 24-48 hours depending on your surgeon’s recommendation. You will be able to shower and perform the wound bandaging as demonstrated to you at your visit.

The Possibility of Pain Afterward

The area may be sore since your skin cancer was scraped and “burned” away. Most patients either do not need to take analgesic (pain relief) medication or achieve adequate pain relief from over the counter acetaminophen (Tylenol ®).

When to Call Your Surgeon 

If you develop excessive pain, bleeding that will not stop, spreading redness, drainage of pus, fevers, chills or other concerning symptoms, call your surgeon as you may need to be evaluated in person. Luckily, rates of infection and bleeding after the electrodesiccation and curettage are lower than after a skin cancer excision.

After your wound heals and a scar forms, let your physician know if you start developing skin changes around the area. Skin cancers can return even after this procedure. Regardless, you should continue regular skin exams with your physician as surveillance for skin cancer.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Susan J. Huang, MD
Susan Huang, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist practicing at Sutter Health. She is also an instructor at Harvard Medical School.