A doctor checking a patient for Skin Cancer and the Treatment Options available

Skin Cancer Treatment Options: What You Need to Know

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, but luckily there are many treatments available. At Clear Dermatology, our team of board-certified dermatologists has expert knowledge about a variety of surgical and non-surgical skin cancer treatments. Here is what you need to know about skin cancer treatment options and what you need to know for each type of skin cancer and its stage. 

Surgical Skin Cancer Treatments 

Surgery can be used to treat many different types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma (the most common type), squamous cell carcinoma, and actinic keratosis. There are three main surgical skin cancer treatment options that we provide:

Excision 

Surgical excision is a relatively simple procedure that removes the cancerous tumor and a margin of healthy tissue around the cancerous cells. The removal of healthy tissues helps prevent the spread of cancerous cells by removing abnormal cells at stage 0, meaning there is the risk of them turning into cancerous cells. The amount of skin and healthy tissue that will be removed varies depending on the size of the tumor and its stage. Excision is often used to treat cancer in stage I (10 millimeters or smaller) and stage II (10-20 millimeters).

Shave excision is a slightly different procedure used primarily for actinic keratosis. This is a skin condition that develops as scaly patches of skin after prolonged sun exposure. Although it is technically not cancer, actinic keratosis poses a high risk of turning into squamous carcinoma. During the shave excision procedure, a surgical blade will be used to shave off the affected skin cells.

Mohs Surgery 

Mohs surgery is a highly effective surgical option for rapidly growing basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. It is often recommended when the cancerous mass does not have clear borders and is found in areas where you want to conserve as much tissue as possible for good cosmetic outcomes. Common areas where Mohs surgery is used include the eyes, nose, lips, fingers, and genital areas. During the Mohs surgery procedure, your surgeon will carefully remove individual layers of skin and examine each one under a microscope. Layers of skin will be removed until no cancerous cells are detected.

Lymph Node Dissection

Lymph node dissection is the most invasive procedure and is used to treat skin cancer in stage III or IV. Cancer at these stages has spread to the deeper connective tissues and lymph nodes, which are small vessels that contain immune cells. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma can all progress to late stages that require lymph node dissection but there is an especially high risk with melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. Early detection is important to prevent skin cancer from progressing to this stage. If you notice a new or developing bump, discoloration, or mole, contact our office immediately for a skin examination and biopsy.

Non-Surgical Skin Cancer Treatments 

Non-surgical treatments can be used alone or in combination with skin cancer surgery. After an examination with one of our dermatologists, we will create a personalized treatment plan that considers the specific type of cancer you have and your treatment goals. Non-surgical skin cancer treatment options include the following:

Radiation Therapy 

Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy to kill existing cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. This is often a good treatment option when the cancerous mass cannot be removed with surgery or is recurring. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma can all be treated with radiation. This is an especially beneficial treatment for late-stage cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. Although radiation therapy is highly effective, there is some risk of the tumor regrowing. Nausea, skin infection, hair loss, and fatigue are other common side effects.

Chemotherapy 

Chemotherapy uses medications that are often administered intravenously (through an IV) but can be applied topically for early-stage cancer or actinic keratosis. Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells and/or prevent them from dividing and spreading. Chemotherapy can be used for all types of skin cancer at any stage, but there is a greater chance of success at earlier stages. It’s also important to consider the side effects, which include nausea, vomiting, and hair loss.

Immunotherapy 

Immunotherapy works by boosting the patient’s immune system so that it can more effectively fight against cancerous cells. Different medications will be prescribed depending on the type of cancer being targeted. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma can all be treated with immunotherapy. This form of treatment is often used to treat advanced forms of skin cancer that have not responded to other treatments.

Targeted Therapy 

Targeted therapy is used to identify and attack specific cancer cells that do not respond to other treatment methods. Medications used in targeted therapy work in various ways. They can block signals that cause cancerous cells to grow, prevent hormones from reaching the cancerous cells, and/or deliver substances that directly kill the abnormal cells. All types of skin cancer can be treated with this method and it is especially effective for cancer at late stages.

Complementary Therapies and Supportive Care 

At Clear Dermatology, we believe that a comprehensive care approach is the best way to treat our patients and improve their overall quality of life. Your treatment providers will help you manage both the physical and emotional aspects of your cancer treatment. Nutrition, pain management, and emotional support are all important aspects that can play a significant role in your medical treatment. 

If you are having pain during your cancer treatment, please let us know right away. We may make recommendations for anti-nausea medication, over-the-counter pain medication, or antidepressants. Massages, acupuncture, and meditation are also beneficial for some patients. A healthy diet during and after treatment will also give your body the nutrients it needs to heal and fight off infections. Complementary therapies can be discussed in greater detail at your consultation. Our goal is to make each patient’s treatment as easy as possible and we are here for you at every step.

Schedule an Appointment

We believe that informed decision-making is an important part of your skin cancer treatment. To learn more about these treatments and which might be right for you, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with an oncologist or one of our dermatologists in Scottsdale, AZ. Early detection and treatment are key and we encourage you to take the next step toward your health and wellbeing.