If you have been diagnosed you will be discussing skin cancer treatment options with your doctor. Of course, this depends on the type of skin cancer, the stage, and other factors. But it’s good to know which treatment options are commonly available and what they mean. In this article we will describe how skin cancer is treated for the different types of skin cancer – where we will make the distinction between non-melanoma (basal cell carcinoma & squamous cell carcinoma) and melanoma skin cancer. As the treatment options for those types can be specific.
Disclaimer: Everything on this page is purely for informative purposes. Always to talk to your doctor if you have questions about treatment options and your personal situation.
Non-melanoma skin cancer treatment
With the highest overall cure rate, Mohs surgery is a common treatment option for non-melanoma skin cancers. Here’s how it works: a physician trained in Mohs surgery will remove the the visible tumor, together with a very thin layer of skin / tissue around it. After that, the layer will be reviewed using a microscope. If there are still visible cancer cells in the depths of this layer, the process will be repeated until no cancer cells can be seen. This treatment spares a lot of skin / tissue compared to other methods.
The physician will remove the visible tumor together with a portion of skin and tissue as a safety margin, to make sure that there are no cancer cells left behind. The wound is closed by applying stitches, and later the excision will be examined to make sure that there are no cancer cells found in the depths of the tissue. If cells are found, another excision might be needed.
Liquid nitrogen is applied on the tumor by the physician. This is done by using an applicator or spray, and it destroys the tumor by freezing it. No excisions or bleeding is involved. But, in order to destroy all cancer cells, repeated treatments might be needed. After the procedure the tumor will become crusted and eventually falls of. This process can cause redness and swelling, and other discomforts – in some cases pains.
Treatment with radiation is used for tumors that are hard to remove with other surgical procedures. It consists of x-rays being directed at the tumor – which in most cases needs several treatments to destroy the tumor. Of course as with any radiation treatment, there are radiation risks involved. Make sure to know about these risks by talking to your doctor.
This can be applied for photodynamic treatment (PDT). A chemical agent that reacts to light, such as topical 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) or methyl aminolevulinate (MAL), is applied to the tumor. It is taken in by the cancer cells and later on the chemical agent is activated by a strong light. This causes the cancer cells to be destroyed while normal skin tissue sees minimal damage.
Also 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), used for treatment of actinic keratoses and superficial basal cell carcinomas, is a topical treatment. It is a topical form of chemotherapy that has a direct toxic effect on the cancerous cells with the aim to destroy them.
Melanoma skin cancer treatment
As melanoma has the ability to spread through the body in later stages, it depends on the specific case which treatment options are available. Your doctor will be able to discuss treatment options based on a personal situation.
The common first step in removing melanoma skin cancer is by surgical excision. This means that the melanoma is cut out, with some surrounding tissue as safety margin. In recent years there have been many developments in excision surgery, focused on the patients well-being and not leaving large scars for example. In many cases this procedure is done at the doctor’s office or at a hospital under local anesthesia. Stitches are being applied for the wound to heal, and this process takes up to two weeks. After the procedure the removed tissue is examined in a lab to find out if there are cancer cells visible in the safety margins of the tissue. If that is the case, further treatment will be needed.
Just as with non-melanoma skin cancer, Mohs surgery is also widely used for removing melanoma skin cancers. The procedure is the same as described above – although there can be more treatment involved based on the specific case and possible spread of cancer cells in the body. Thanks to a series of advances within this type of treatment, more surgeons are now using the Mohs procedure with certain melanoma skin cancers.
Still have questions about treatment options? Talk to your doctor about your situation.
Credited source: SkinCancer.org