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9 Skin Cancer Treatments You Should Know About
Hearing that you have cancer can be traumatic, but luckily, there are several highly effective skin cancer treatments available today. Like all types of cancer, the key to a successful skin cancer outcome is early detection and treatment. In fact, with early treatment, the cure rate for some skin cancers is up to 98%!
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at nine outstanding skin cancer treatments, as well as what you can do to catch cancer early.
9 Outstanding Treatments for Precancers
Actinic keratosis (AK) is a precancerous skin condition caused by excessive UV radiation exposure from the sun or tanning beds. It causes dry, scaly, crusty patches of skin and is common in areas of the body that get a lot of sun exposure, such as the face, lips, ears, and hands.
Only 5 – 10% of AKs turn into skin cancer. However, the majority of squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) begin as actinic keratosis, so it’s best to treat them before they have a chance to develop into cancer.
Four great treatments for precancers are:
1. Chemical peels
A chemical peel is a procedure where a dermatologist applies a thin layer of acid to the skin, which causes the top layer of skin, including the AK, to come off. Many people use chemical peels for cosmetic reasons, but they’re also an effective treatment for precancers that are widespread on the face.
2. Laser treatments
During laser treatments, a dermatologist can use an ablative (vaporizing) or nonablative (converts laser beam to heat) laser to destroy precancers or superficial basal cell carcinoma (BCC). This treatment is very effective at eliminating precancers that are widespread on the face and scalp.
Cryosurgery is another great treatment for precancers and is also effective at treating superficial BCCs. During the procedure, the dermatologist applies liquid nitrogen to growths to freeze the tissue. Over time, the skin will become crusted and slough off, revealing new, healthy skin. Cryosurgery is most effective when there’s only a limited number of precancers, rather than widespread lesions.
4. Topical creams
There are a number of prescription topical creams that can treat actinic keratosis or early-stage BCC and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). These medications are particularly well suited for areas with multiple lesions. Patients simply spread the cream on the affected area for a physician-specified length of time. The creams cause the lesions to swell, crust, and slough off.
Skin Cancer Treatments for Superficial Growths
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common types of skin cancer. Both are relatively slow-growing and can often be treated with a simple in-office procedure when you find them early. (Top tip: read our guide on what you ask your doctor after receiving a skin cancer diagnosis!)
However, if you leave them to grow, they can penetrate deeper layers of the skin and become disfiguring and, potentially, deadly. Some great treatments for superficial skin cancers are:
5. Curettage and electrodesiccation
This treatment is suitable for precancers and BCCs and SCCs that have not grown to deeper layers of the skin. During the procedure, the dermatologist will use a local anesthetic to numb the treatment area. Then, the doctor will use a round instrument called a curette to remove the lesion. After that, the dermatologist will use electrodesiccation to cauterize the area with heat, destroying any remaining cancer cells.
This procedure is not usually suitable for use in cosmetically sensitive areas, such as the face, because it can cause pigmentation changes and scarring.
During excision surgery, the physician removes the cancerous tumor, plus some surrounding tissue (called a safety margin), and sends it to a lab for analysis. If the lab finds cancerous cells around the safety margin, the patient will need to schedule an additional round of excision surgery to remove more tissue.
For early-stage BCCs, SCCs, and melanomas that have not spread beyond the tumor, excision surgery may be the only treatment necessary.
7. Mohs surgery
Mohs surgery is the most effective skin cancer treatment currently available. Mohs surgeons are trained in both removing the tumor and examining it in the lab for cancerous cells.
Using a detailed map, the Mohs surgeon will perform multiple rounds of careful tissue removal in a single in-office appointment to ensure that they fully remove the cancer before sending the patient home. It’s important to note that many Mohs surgeries take more than one round of tissue removal, so a patient may need to be in the office for a few hours.
The procedure preserves much more healthy tissue than excision surgery, so it’s preferable for cosmetically areas like the face where scarring would be undesirable. It’s also highly effective for BCCs and SCCs that have already been treated but come back.
Advanced Skin Cancer Treatments
For aggressive skin cancers that have spread beyond the superficial surface of the skin, patients may need advanced treatments in addition to tumor removal, such as:
8. Radiation therapy
Sometimes, when skin cancers are in places that are difficult to reach surgically or the patient is not healthy enough to undergo surgery, radiation therapy may be used. By directing low-energy x-rays at the tumor, radiation therapy destroys the cancer. The treatment takes several rounds over a few weeks or months, depending upon the individual.
Sometimes, radiation therapy is used in conjunction with other treatments for more advanced skin cancers.
9. Oral immunotherapies
Some patients have success taking medications, either orally or intravenously, that boost the immune system to help them fight off their cancer. Some versions of these medicines stop or slow the body’s hyperproduction of cancer cells. Often these medications are used in combination with one another and in addition to surgical treatments. They’re usually reserved for treating advanced cancers, especially melanoma that has spread beyond the skin.
What’s the key to successfully treating skin cancer?
Early detection and treatment are the most important factors in skin cancer treatment. The sooner you notice a change in your skin and see your dermatologist for treatment, the better your skin cancer outcome will be.
What’s the best way to catch a change in your skin? Perform a monthly skin cancer self-exam and schedule an annual exam with your dermatologist.
What’s better than catching a suspicious spot early? Preventing skin cancer before it starts. We recommend wearing an SPF 30 sunscreen (or higher) daily, even when it’s cloudy. If you’ll be outside for a long time, wear protective clothing, and seek shade as much as possible. (And don’t be relaxed about skin cancer prevention if you have darker skin — people of color are susceptible to skin cancer, too!)
If you’ve noticed a change in your skin or want to schedule your annual skin cancer check up, give Brentwood Dermatology a call today.
Brentwood Dermatology is a leader in skin cancer detection and treatment. If you notice a spot that’s concerning, give us a call at (615) 455-0046 to schedule an appointment right away.