There are many different types of skin cancer treatments. The treatment chosen often depends on the type of skin cancer, how big it is and where it is located. Some of the most common skin cancer treatments include excision, cryosurgery, Mohs surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Skin cancer can develop when skin cells get damaged, such as by radiation from the sun, and begin to grow out of control. A skin cancer lesion may show up as a scaly red patch or growth of skin, a soft pearlescent growth of skin, or a dark, often irregularly-shaped mole. The appearance generally depends on the type of skin cancer. The three main types of skin cancer include basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas.
Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are the more common types of skin cancer. They are often limited to the skin and nearby tissues, though squamous cell carcinomas may spread as far as the lymph nodes. For both of these types of skin cancer, small lesions may be treated by cutting away the visibly altered tissue in a surgery known as excision, freezing it to kill the cancer cells in a procedure called cryosurgery, or burning it and removing the dead tissue in a procedure known as electrodessication and curettage. Small lesions that are limited just to the top layers of skin may also be treated with chemotherapy medication applied directly to the skin.
In cases where a basal or squamous cell carcinoma is larger or goes deep into the layers of skin and surrounding tissue, Mohs surgery may be recommended. Mohs surgery generally works by cutting out the visibly altered tissue, then continuing on to remove the layers of cancerous cells underneath one at a time until all of the cancerous layers have been removed. Each layer of skin is usually checked under a microscope as it is removed to confirm whether cancer cells are present.
This type of surgery generally helps ensure as much of the cancer is taken out as possible to reduce the incidence of recurrence, while at the same time reducing the noncancerous tissue that gets removed. Skin cancer treatments for larger carcinoma lesions may also include radiation if the lesions can‘t be operated on.
Melanoma, which is the least common and most serious form of skin cancer, is also usually treated at least in part with surgery. Depending on where the cancerous growth is located, melanoma skin cancer treatments may again include excision, cryosurgery or Mohs surgery. In addition, because melanoma is more likely to spread to other parts of the body than the other types of skin cancer, surgery may be needed to remove lymph nodes or other tissues. Systemic chemotherapy to kill any circulating cancer cells may also be used. In some cases, biologic therapy to boost the body’s immune system and spur it into fighting the cancer may be offered.
New skin cancer treatments are frequently being researched. Typically, one of the goals of this ongoing research is to help find treatments that offer better outcomes for people with treatment-resistant or recurring skin cancer. Based on this, people with skin cancer that don't respond to traditional treatment or comes back after treatment may be able to enroll in tests of new skin cancer treatments as they are being developed.