Skin Cancer Treatment Options
Skin cancer treatment varies depending on the type of skin cancer that occurs. More specifically, skin cancer treatments depend on the type of skin cancer symptoms that develop. In addition, many cases of skin cancer treatment are actually performed on precancerous lesions known as actinic keratoses as a means of skin cancer prevention.
Typical Skin Cancer Treatment
A typical skin cancer treatment procedure will involve the removal of abnormal (cancer) cells through either surgery or topical medications. This cancer treatment will usually only require a local anesthetic and may be performed on an outpatient basis. In some cases, this initial biopsy of the skin cancer growth is all that is required. However, in many cases of skin cancer, additional treatment is necessary.
Additional Skin Cancer Treatment
If additional or alternative skin cancer treatment is required, the following treatment options may be available:
- Liquid Nitrogen or cryosurgery involves the "freezing" of actinic keratoses and some forms of early skin cancers. The dead tissue is removed as the skin thaws. A repeat treatment may be required if the initial procedure does not completely remove the skin cancer. This process may leave a small, white scar. Freezing is generally appropriate for the treatment of all skin cancer types.
- Excision. This form of skin cancer treatment involves the surgical removal of the skin cancer growth along with a margin of healthy skin tissue in the surrounding area. A wide excision, involving extra removal of the normal tissue surrounding the skin cancer tumor, may be required. This procedure can leave larger scars, and it may be appropriate to consult a doctor specializing in skin reconstruction in order to minimize these effects.
- Laser Therapy involves an intense beam of light that vaporizes superficial skin cancer growths and precancerous lesions, particularly on the lips. This treatment of skin cancer typically results in little damage to the surrounding tissue with a comparatively reduced amount of bleeding, swelling and scarring.
- Moh's Surgery. Only specifically trained doctors may perform this skin cancer treatment, which requires an intense examination procedure. Moh's surgery is typically used to treat larger or recurring skin cancers that are difficult to treat such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The procedure involves the removal of skin growths one layer at a time. Each layer is examined under a microscope throughout the surgery until no abnormal cancer cells are detected. The surgery minimizes the amount of healthy skin tissue that is removed during treatment.
- Curettage and Electrodesiccation. This procedure follows a typical skin cancer treatment. A circular blade known as a "curet" is used to scrape away cancer cells after the initial removal of a skin cancer growth. This is followed by the application of an electric needle to destroy any remaining cancer cells. The procedure is typically used to treat cases of small basal cell carcinoma and leaves a small, flat scar.
In addition, immunotherapy and photodynamic therapy are two types of skin cancer treatment that are currently under study. Immunotherapy, or biological therapy, would involve drugs and topical medications designed to improve immune responses and help fight both melanoma as well as nonmelanoma skin cancers.
Photodynamic therapy for the treatment of precancerous lesions is currently available by prescription and involves a combination of drugs that make cancer cells sensitive to light, followed by laser therapy.
Radiation and Chemotherapy
In some cases of skin cancer, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be recommended.
Radiation therapy may be recommended to treat basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. This is typically an option when surgical treatment of skin cancer cannot be performed.
Chemotherapy for skin cancer usually involves topical creams or lotions containing anti-cancer agents to destroy skin cancer cells that are strictly limited to the top layers of the skin. These medications are applied directly to the skin and may cause serious inflammation or scarring. In addition, other forms of chemotherapy may be used to treat skin cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.