Treatment of Skin Cancer
Depending on the type and location of skin cancer, different treatment options may be available.
Factors Affecting the Treatment of Skin Cancer
Type: Skin cancer is classified as melanoma or non-melanoma. The two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Size: Your dermatologist may recommend different treatment options when skin cancer is detected early as opposed to cancers that are larger or recurring.
Location: Depending on the location of the cancer, such as cosmetically sensitive areas or high risk areas, different treatment options including surgical vs. non-surgical may be available.
Treatment Options for Skin Cancer
Biopsy: A biopsy is the first step in diagnosing skin cancer. A small sample of the skin is taken and sent to the lab for confirmation of the type of skin cancer. Depending on the type, size and location of the cancer, different options may be available.
Surgery: Surgical excision is the standard of care for the treatment of most skin cancers. With local excision, the entire cancer is removed along with some of the surrounding tissue in order to assure clear margins. Depending on the type, size and location of the cancer, different margins may be taken to assure proper treatment. This is often the appropriate treatment option for most skin cancers on the trunk and extremities, or smaller cancers on the face. Treatment is usually is done in the clinic under local anesthesia with usually excellent recovery and almost no down time.
Mohs Micrographic Surgery: Mohs surgery is a tissue-sparing procedure in which the tumor is excised in layers and mapped out. It is often an appropriate treatment option for larger skin cancers with ill-defined borders or cancers on cosmetically sensitive areas such as the nose or near the eyes or lips. Each layer is examined microscopically so that only layers containing cancer cells are removed, leaving healthy skin intact. This procedure is usually done in a clinical setting, although larger cancers may be treated in the hospital. Depending on the size and location of the cancer, the resulting wound may be repaired by either a primary closure in which the wound margins are closed and stitched, a skin graft, or a skin flap.
Topical Therapies: Topical therapy includes medications applied directly to the affected area on the skin. They may be used alone or in combination with other treatments. Topical therapy does not have the same cure rate as surgical excision, but may be an option for superficial non-melanoma skin cancers in patients who are not surgical candidates or patients who prefer to avoid surgery.
Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and destroy abnormal cells. Cryotherapy may be used for the treatment of precancerous lesions or superficial non-melanoma skin cancers in patients who are not surgical candidates.
Curettage and electrodessication: In-office procedure that involves scraping the cancerous cells off layer by layer using a spoon-shaped blade. Then, an electric needle is used to stop the bleeding and destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses high energy rays to kill or shrink skin cancers. It often requires multiple treatments (usually 12) over the course of a few weeks to months. Radiation therapy may be an option for non-melanoma skin cancers in patients that are not surgical candidates or those who prefer to avoid surgery. Occasionally, it may be used in addition to surgery to assure that all cancerous cells have been removed or destroyed. Side effects include irritation, inflammation and drying of the skin.
Depending on your skin type and skin cancer, a dermatologist can help determine the appropriate treatment option for you.