Generally, skin cancer can be treated through surgery. However, many treatment options are made available to the patient. Sometimes, depending on the size, type, depth and location of the cancer, one treatment is recommended over another.
In the presence of small skin cancers (or precancerous lesions), treatment can be limited to simply removing the entire growth (by incision or with a scraping tool). If further intervention is needed, options include:
- Cryosurgery. Usually used for small or early stage cancers by freezing them with liquid nitrogen. The dead tissue just falls off after it thaws.
- Excisional surgery. This is when the doctor cuts out the cancer, along with some healthy surrounding skin.
- Mohs Micrographic surgery is used when dealing with larger, recurring or difficult to treat skin cancers. It is generally used for basal and squamous cell carcinomas but is increasingly being used for melanoma as well. One thin layer of tissue is removed at a time and evaluated for cancer detection. The surgery ends when the removed layer becomes cancer-free.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation or cryotherapy is used as a follow-up once the growth is removed. Here, a needle-shaped electrode is used to freeze or destroy cancer cells surrounding the wound area. This is mainly used to treat basal cell cancers or thin squamous cell cancers.
- Radiation therapy is used when surgery cannot completely remove all cancer cells. It is also used when cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body or in the case of a recurring cancer an initial treatment through surgery.
- Chemotherapy can be used in a variety of ways for treatment. Topical ointments/creams can be used for cancers that are limited to the top layer of skin. In the case where cancers have spread, IV-chemo is used, mostly to alleviate symptoms, rather than cure the cancer.
- Photodynamic therapy consists of using drugs that make cancer cells sensitive to light and then destroying them with laser light. This is a relatively new type of treatment and is most successful with basal skin cancers that are not too deep.
- Immunotherapy targets skin cancer cells by manipulating the body’s immune system into using its natural defenses to kill these cancer cells. It is being used for non-melanoma as well as advanced melanoma.