Although there are many types of therapies for skin cancer, basal cell cancers, squamous cell cancers and early stage melanoma can often be completely cured by minor surgery. Physicians use the size and location of the skin cancer, as well as the results of the diagnostic tests to determine the best course of treatment. Patients should work together with their physician to choose among several treatment options that may be used alone or in combination, and understand the risks and benefits of each.
Most surgical procedures for skin cancer are relatively minor. The skin is numbed and then the tumor is removed, along with some of the surrounding tissue, which is checked to make sure there are no remaining cancer cells. If melanoma is suspected, some lymph nodes may also be checked and removed. In rare cases of skin cancer on the fingers or toes, amputation may be necessary.
Cryosurgery is a procedure in which liquid nitrogen is applied directly to the skin to freeze and kill cancer cells. With Photodynamic therapy (PDT), drugs that collect in cancer cells and make them sensitive to light are placed on the skin or injected into the blood. A special light is used to activate the drug and kill the cancer cells.
Immunotherapy involves drugs or vaccines taken orally or applied to the skin that can help the immune system better attack the cancer. It is typically used as an added therapy after surgery for people with advanced melanoma.
Unlike chemotherapy used for other cancers, chemotherapy for skin cancer is a cream applied directly to the skin (topically). The chemotherapy drug in the cream reaches and kills cancer cells near the surface of the skin. It cannot reach deeper cancer cells or ones that have spread, so this therapy is primarily used for certain types of skin cancer or skin conditions that could become cancer.
Radiation therapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. Although it may be used as a primary treatment for melanoma, it is not typically used to kill an original skin tumor. It is primarily used to treat skin cancer that has returned after surgery or cancer that has spread. It can also help shrink tumors to control symptoms. Side effects are usually limited to irritation around the radiation site, although many patients also report fatigue.
Electron Beam Radiation Therapy Electron beam radiation is a special type of radiotherapy that consists of very tiny electrically charged particles that can be treated on linear accelerator and directed toward the skin. The electron beam has characteristics that make it valuable for the treatment of skin cancer. This radiation is very damaging to the skin cancer cells but is fairly well tolerated by the surrounding normal skin cells. Also, the radiation penetrates only a very short distance into the skin so that internal organs can be completely spared from its effects.
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