Skin Cancer Treatment

By Michele C. Hollow @YourCareE
May 25, 2023
Skin Cancer Treatment

Healing depends on the kind of skin cancer you have and how advanced it is; the good news is skin cancer treatments are highly successful and not too invasive.

Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type of skin cancer, the size of your tumor, how advanced it is, which part of your body it affects, and your overall well-being.

Among the different types of skin cancer are:

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common types of skin cancer. They are typically found on parts of your body that are exposed to the sun, such as your head, neck, arms, and hands. If left untreated, they can grow and invade nearby tissues and organs. Left alone, they can become fatal.


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Treatments for non-melanoma skin cancer

Skin cancer treatment is highly successful, not too invasive, and usually done on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic. One common skin cancer treatment includes curettage and electrodessication. The procedure is used for small lesions. It involves numbing the skin and scrapping the lesion off with a sharp tool and then burning the area with an electrocautery needle. The cure rate for this approach is about 95 percent.

Mohs micrographic surgery is another type of skin cancer treatment. It removes a thin layer of the lesion bit by bit, microscopically mapping where the cancer is located and pinpointing where the cancer cells are located. The approach has the highest cure rate, 99 percent or better. It also saves healthy tissues.

Physicians use Mohs to treat large tumors in cosmetically important areas, such as your face, and in places where lesions have returned, are hard to pinpoint, or are in critical areas around your eyes, nose, lips, ears, temple, scalp, or fingers.

Excisional surgery is another commonly used treatment for skin cancer. The entire lesion along a border of healthy skin is extracted and stitches are used to close the site, ensuring that all of the cancer is removed. The success rate is about 95 percent.

Other treatments for skin cancer involve the use of x-ray beams, cryosurgery (in which the tumor is removed by freezing), lasers that destroy the skin’s top layer, and topical medications.

Photodynamic therapy is also another option for treating basal and squamous cell skin cancer cells on the face and scalp. The treatment combines a chemical agent that reacts to light. It’s non-invasive and can be done in a doctor’s office. However, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), it’s not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for squamous cell carcinoma.

When larger areas of tumors are removed, scarring may occur. In some cases, reconstructive surgery may be required. A surgeon will use a skin graft or flap to cover the defect. You won’t need to hire a plastic surgeon because Mohs surgeons are trained in reconstructive surgery.

Treatment for melanoma

The most deadly form of skin cancer is melanoma. The cancer is treated according to its stage. Surgery can treat early stages. More advanced forms require other treatments.

Immunotherapy uses medicines to boost a patient’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Depending on how advanced the melanoma is, the treatment may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy.

Stage I melanoma can also be treated by excision, surgery that removes the cancer along with some of the healthy skin surrounding it.

More advanced stages, such as stage III (when melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes), require excision of the infected area and dissection of the lymph nodes to lessen the chances of the cancer spreading.

Additional treatments for skin cancer that is advanced include radiation therapy and injection of a vaccine. If the cancer is found on an arm or leg, chemotherapy infusion may also be tried.

Stage IV melanoma is the most advanced, and it’s hard to cure because the cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes or other areas of the body. It’s possible to remove some organs to which the cancer has spread. More often, newer treatments that combine immunotherapy and targeted drugs have proven to be more effective than chemotherapy.

Patients with stage IV melanomas should talk to their doctors about taking part in a clinical trial, if one is available.

In almost half of all melanomas, cancer cells have changes in the BRAF gene. If a doctor discovers this change, treatment with newer targeted therapy drugs may help.

Prevention of skin cancer

The SCF recommends always applying sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher when you go outdoors. Other recommends include:

  • Stay in the shade, if possible, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m, when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are strong. If you’re out between those hours, cover up and wear sunscreen.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds. Don’t tan in the sun.
  • Wear broad brimmed hats.
  • Apply sunscreen every two hours or right after swimming.
  • Keep babies out of the sun to avoid sunburn.
  • Examine your skin every month (here’s how) and see your doctor for a professional skin exam.


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May 25, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA