Treatment of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States with almost a million people diagnosed every year. Although it is also important to know that majority of skin cancers can be prevented and cured when detected early. Skin cancer can occur just about anywhere on the body, but most commonly it affects skin that is exposed to sunlight.

There are several types of cancer affecting the skin and usually treatments vary depending on the type of skin cancer that one has. Non-melanoma skin cancers arise in basal cells or squamous cells, which are the most common of cancer cells that start in the skin.

Melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, arising from the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. Melanoma skin cancer is more likely to affect nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body, unlike nonmenaloma skin cancers which rarely spread to other body parts.

A skin condition that may sometimes develop into squamous cell carcinoma is referred to as actinic keratosis. By definition, actinic keratosis always have the atypical cells within them. But most of the time, they do not advance to skin cancer.

The following are the treatments for common skin cancer:

Surgery – A simple operation may be done involving the skin cancer to be cut out, along with a margin of cancer-free skin. Usually the wound is closed using stitches, performed under local anaesthetic. Given that the cancer is large or spreading, a larger amount of skin would be required to be removed to make sure all cancer cells are taken out. For this, general anaesthetic will be used for the wound to be stitched together.

Skin grafts – If a relatively large skin is removed, a skin graft may be needed to cover the wound. Occasionally, such treatment may not be successful. Also there are risks of infection, clotting and scarring.

Cryotherapy – For keratosis and skin cancer that is small and not too deep, freezing may be a possible treatment. Cryotherapy is done with the use of liquid nitrogen placed on the cancer to freeze it. This causes a stinging or burning feeling. It may take weeks for the area to heal and sometimes the treatment may be done more than once to completely remove the cancer or keratosis.

Curettage and cautery – For small basal cell carcinoma, a simple procedure can be done to take out the cancer cells. Under local anaesthetic, the doctor may use a small instrument called a curette to remove it. And to control the bleeding and get rid of any remaining cancer cells, an electrodesiccation technique is performed. Cautery uses a needle to channel a mild electric current into the affected area.

Radiation therapy – Radiation is used to kill cancer cells and this is done through radiotherapy. Cancer sites in your body are targeted for radiation. This quick and painless procedure is suitable for people who are unable or unwilling to undergo surgery.

Chemotherapy cream – The anti-cancer drugs contained in these creams work by killing the cancer cells. This treatment can be performed at home, and doesn’t need injections thus the absence of scars. However, application of the cream is only recommended for shallow skin cancers. For treatment using topical chemotherapy, a medication cream called 5-fluorouracil is applied directly to skin for several weeks.

Immunotherapy – This treatment works by stimulating the body’s immune system to fight the cancer more vigorously. A cream which contains the drug imiquimod is applied to the cancer for about six weeks. This boosts the immune response of the skin area where it is applied. It is mostly used for treating keratoses and basal cell carcinomas.

The treatment approach to a patient may also depend on several variables. These may include any of the following: the type, size, grade, location and extent of the lesion or tumor; whether the tumor is primary or recurring; lesion changes that may indicate malignancy; and the age and general health of the individual.