Skin cancer treatment options

Once a patient hears the words “it’s skin cancer”, the following conversation with the doctor involves treatment options. The options can vary depending on the cancer type, age of patient, and stage of cancer development.  Skin cancer treatment can be broken into 3 basic categories: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.  One or more of these may be used in the treatment process.


Surgery involves the removal and destruction of the cancer.  Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are usually treated with surgery. The only treatment for melanoma is surgery, and it is best done before the cancer cells spread beyond the skin into other organs. One type of surgery is cryosurgery. This surgery uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the cancer cells. The cold is extreme and results immediately in killing the tumor. Micrographic surgery, or Mohs surgery, involves a method whereby the doctor attempts to remove the entire tumor. The doctor takes one layer at a time of the tumor and examines it until he no longer detects cancer cells. If the cancer cells have grown beyond the outer layer of the skin, then laser surgery is also a possibility. This procedure uses a highly focused beam of light to eliminate cancer cells. Regardless of the type of surgery performed, the advancement of surgical procedures has allowed doctors to leave scarring to a minimum.


picture illustrating skin cancer treatment using cryosurgeryChemotherapy is the treatment of cancer through medication. In the case of skin cancer, anti-cancer creams or lotions are typically used. This type of chemotherapy is called localized or tropical chemotherapy. This type of treatment fights superficial tumors that have not broken the top layer of the skin. Another type of chemotherapy is systemic chemotherapy which consists of the patient taking a pill, receiving an injection, or receiving the medication intravenously.  The systemic chemotherapy is generally used only for metastatic cancer. In the case of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, an ointment with the agent called 5-fluorouracil is applied for several weeks to the tumor. Chemotherapy can also be used in conjunction with surgery and other treatments.

Radiation therapy

The third option typically used in fighting skin cancer is radiation therapy.  The procedure utilizes a special kind energy carried by rays or particles to destroy cancer cells or to prevent them from growing.  This type of treatment may be used to eliminate cancer cells that grow in difficult areas to treat with surgery, which may include the ears, eyelids, and the tip of the nose.  The patient feels no pain with this treatment, and the side effects are minimal.

Alternative treatments

Some people have also turned to alternative forms of treatment.  For example, some have tried immunotherapy.  This type of treatment manipulates the body’s immune system causing it to eliminate cancerous cells. With the attempt to cure advanced stages of melanoma, this type of therapy was created. Photodynamic therapy uses drugs that collect in tumors; then doctors, utilizing a special light that triggers a chemical reaction, eliminates the cancer cells.  This method destroys the cancer cells, but it does not harm the surrounding tissue. Although these types of treatments are becoming more popular, the main three types of treatment are used most.

Whether a person is being treated by surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, technology has increased the chances of success. Quite often, these methods are used together to create a treatment plan that will work best for the patient. However, the more the patient knows about their treatment options, the better decision that he or she can make.