Skin Cancer Treatment: Surgery, Radiotherapy, Chemotherapy

General Rules

Treatment of skin cancer depends on cancer type, stage, location, patient’s age, and his/her general health state. It is a dermatologist – a specialist for skin diseases - who treats cancer. Methods of skin cancer treatment include:

  1. Surgery
  2. Radiotherapy
  3. Chemotherapy
  4. Medications and other

1. Surgery

In most cases, surgery is the first option to treat cancer. Often only a small ambulatory procedure performed in outpatient ambulance is needed:

  • Excision. Small tumors, like small basal carcinoma can be simply excised with the scalpel. Under local anesthesia ( anesthetic is injected in surrounding tissue), a cancer and small amount of healthy tissue around the tumor will be excised to be sure that all cancerous cells are removed. Resulting wound will be sutured, and sutures removed after few days. A small scar will often remain, but this fades to some extent with time.
  • Cryosurgery (Greek cryo= cold) is freezing the cancer with applying liquid nitrogen (-196°C) on the cancer. Cryosurgery is mainly used for small surface pre-cancerous growths, like actinic keratoses. The procedure is painless. After the growth falls off, a small pale scar remains.
  • Curretage is scraping the lesion with a sharp instrument. The area is then treated with electrodesiccation (Latin desiccare = dry off completely) to kill eventual remaining cancerous cells and to stop bleeding.
  • Laser can be used to destroy small superficial cancers.
  • Micrographic surgery is a procedure where a cancer is removed layer by layer and each layer is checked under the microscope for presence of cancerous cells, before proceeding. The method is used in large agressive cancers where removing all cancerous cells is essential, but keeping as much as possible of surrounding skin is also important (like on the face).
  • A skin graft from the other part of the body may be needed after surgical removal of the skin cancer.

2. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy means treating of cancers with anti-cancer drugs.

  • In topical chemotherapy, a cream or lotion with anti-cancer drug is applied on the cancer. It can be used in small superficial cancers. Topical chemotherapy doesn’t cause systemic side effects, but usually results in local inflammation.
  • Systemic chemotherapy is mainly used for cancers that have already spread into other organs. Anti-cancer drugs are administered as pills, intra-muscular, or intravenous injections.

3. Radiotherapy

In radiotherapy high energy X-ray beam is used to kill cancer cells. It is usually used for cancers on the face that can’t be easily removed with surgery. The procedure is painless. The procedure usually causes temporary local inflammation. Sometimes notable skin changes develop on the treated area.

4. Other Treatments of Skin Cancer

In particular tumors the following therapeutic procedures may be effective:

  • In photodynamic therapy (PDT), a medication with tendency to collect in cancerous cells is injected into a vein (1). After 24-72 hours, medication will disappear from normal body cells, but will remain in the cancerous cells. Then a special light is focused on the cancer to activate the medication, and this will destroy cancerous cells. PTD can be used for treat small skin, esophageal, and bronchial tumors (optic tubes with the light are inserted into esophagus or bronchi).
  • In cancer immunotherapy, substances that are normally produced by the body to kill harmful cells, may be produced in laboratory and injected into patient’s bloodstream (2). These substances (interferon-A, monoclonal antibodies) collect into tumors and made them susceptible for body’s own immune system.

Further reading:

Types of Skin Cancer
Types of Skin Rashes

References:

  1. Photodynamic therapy  (cancer.gov)
  2. Cancer immunotherapy  (cancersupportivecare.com)
About Jan Modric (249 Articles)
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