The treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, size, depth and location of the lesion. The most common treatment for skin cancer is surgery. For basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas and for melanomas in early stages, this will probably be performed in the doctor's office. The doctor will numb your skin and remove the cancer while you are awake.
Cryosurgery and electrosurgery also are used. They are performed on basal and squamous cell skin cancers in the early stages. Cryosurgery uses extreme cold produced by liquid nitrogen to destroy abnormal tissue. Electrosurgery or eloctrocautery uses high-frequency electric current to burn and cut tissue.
Via Christi Cancer Care also offers an advanced technique called Mohs micrographic surgery. It is used for nonmelanoma skin cancer. In Mohs surgery, the surgeon removes a thin layer of tissue and examines it under a microscope to detect cancer. The surgeon does this over and over until no cancer is found. In this way, the tumor is removed with the smallest amount of tissue loss. This is important when the skin cancer is on the face, nose or ear.
Medications in the form of ointment or salve are sometimes used for non-melanoma skin cancers. They also are used for precancerous conditions such as actinic keratosis. They include fluorouracil (5-FU) and Imiquimod cream. Fluorouracil is an anticancer medication that slow or stops the growth of abnormal cells on the skin. Imiquimod is thought to produce substances that attack abnormal cells, viruses and cancerous cells. These medications include special instructions to avoid irritation to healthy skin.
Chemotherapy uses medicines to destroy cancer cells. You will receive it through your veins. Chemotherapy is not used for basal or squamous cell skin cancer. It may be used to treat melanoma, especially if it has spread to other organs.
Biological therapy uses materials formed by the body but produced in a lab. These materials boost your body's natural defenses. One such chemical is Interferon and Interleukin-2, which are given by injection or through the vein. They help your body's immune system destroy the melanoma. The most common side effect is severe tiredness or fatigue.
Another biological therapy is Tretinoin (Retin-A), which comes from vitamin A. It may prevent new skin cancers.
Sometimes people with skin cancer take part in clinical trials. Clinical trials are research projects to test medicines and treatments.
Calling your health care provider:
Any suspicious mole, sore, or skin growth should be looked at by a physician immediately. You should take seriously any changes in a mole or any sudden growth on the skin.
Minimizing sun exposure is the best way to prevent skin damage, including many types of skin cancer:
- Protect your skin from the sun when you can -- wear protective clothing such as hats, long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, or pants
- Try to avoid exposure between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun is most intense.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunscreen at least one-half hour before sun exposure, and reapply frequently
- Apply sunscreen during winter months as well