For the highest level of medical skin care, insist you receive skin cancer treatment from top dermatologists at Colorado Springs Dermatology Clinic, P.C.
If your physician discovers a skin cancer, there are several treatment options available. Most can be performed on an outpatient basis at your doctor’s office or at a clinic. A local anesthetic is normally used and there is relatively little pain or discomfort during the procedure or afterwards. What sort of treatment is pursued depends on a number of factors:
- the type of skin cancer, whether basal cell, squamous cell, melanoma, etc.
- what size the cancer is – larger cancers often require a different type of treatment from small cancers
- how deep the tumor has penetrated
- where the cancer is –for example, treatments may vary whether on the face or body
- you own skin cancer and your family history of the disease
Your skin cancer doctor will weigh these different considerations and decide on a course of treatment for your individual case.
What Kinds of Treatment are Available?
Following are the most common skin cancer treatments.
Generally reserved for very small cancers and rough pre-cancerous areas called actinic keratosis, cryosurgery involves “freezing” away the lesion with a small amount of liquid nitrogen using a spray device or a cotton-tipped applicator. No cutting is necessary and no anesthesia is required. To ensure destruction of all cancerous cells, the procedure may be repeated several times during the same appointment. After treatment, the growth crusts up, scabs over and should fall off with a few weeks. Though fairly inexpensive and easily administered, cryosurgery has a lower cure rate than surgical methods.
This form of therapy involves application of topical creams and is generally reserved for pre-cancerous conditions like actinic keratosis and occasionally for less aggressive forms of skin cancer like superficial basal cell carcinoma. Some of the creams used are Efudex cream (5-fluourouracil) and Aldara cream (imiquimod). These treatments are favored when possible because they avoid surgical procedures or scarring. The downside of topical therapy is that it has a lower cure rate than surgery and the creams may irritate the skin for weeks or months. Because the treatment may only remove a superficial portion of the tumor, deeper tumor roots may be masked.
Usually used for small lesions, this procedure involves scraping the malignant growth off with a sharp-edged instrument called a curette. After removal, the skin is cauterized, or heated, to prevent bleeding and to remove more of the tumor; the procedure may have to be repeated a few times to be sure no cancerous cells remain. The technique works best on thin, superficial or non-aggressive types of skin cancer on the arms or trunk.
For larger, deeper tumors, an excision may be performed. This involves cutting out the tumor along with a small portion of the surrounding skin. Usually requiring stitches to control the bleeding and close the wound, this method leaves some scarring. If the tumor is particularly large, some skin grafting from another part of the body may be necessary.
Generally used on more serious cancers, Mohs surgery has the highest cure rate of all skin cancer treatments, up to 99 percent. The advanced, state-of-the-art procedure is often used where other methods have failed and is considered the most exact method of tumor removal. Because the cancerous tissue is so precisely pinpointed in Mohs surgery, it is able to remove all the cancer right down to the roots with a minimum of damage to surrounding tissue, thus lessening the potential for scarring or disfigurement.
Your physician may recommend Mohs surgery if:
- your cancer was previously treated and has recurred
- you have scar tissue in the area of the cancer
- the cancer is in a functionally or cosmetically important area, particularly on the face
- the tumor is large
- the edges of the cancerous area are relatively undefined
- the cancer is growing fast and/or uncontrollably
Radiation and Chemotherapy
If your cancer has spread or other medical conditions prevent the use of other treatments, your doctor may recommend the use of radiation therapy. Administration of radiation involves directing x-ray beams directly at the tumor in a series of treatments administered over several weeks. Involving possible long-term cosmetic problems, radiation risks and multiple visits, it is generally used for tumors that are hard to treat surgically.