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Skin Cancer


There are treatments for all patients with skin cancer. Three kinds of treatments are used:

  • surgery (taking out the skin cancer)

  • chemotherapy (using drugs to kill skin cancer cells)

  • radiation therapy (using x-rays to kill skin cancer cells)

Many skin cancers are treated by doctors who treat skin diseases (dermatologists). Often, the cancer can be treated in a doctor's office. Surgery is the most common treatment of skin cancer. A doctor may remove the cancer using one of the following:

  • Electrodesiccation and curettage is surgery that uses an electric current to dehydrate the tumor (electrodesiccation), then uses a specialized surgical tool (curet) to remove the tumor.

  • Cryosurgery freezes the tumor and kills it.

  • Simple excision cuts the cancer from the skin along with some of the healthy tissue around it.

  • Micrographic surgery removes the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible. During this surgery, the doctor removes the cancer and then uses a microscope to look at the cancerous area to make sure no cancer cells remain.

  • Laser therapy uses a highly focused beam of light that destroys only the cancer cells.

Surgery to remove skin cancer may leave a scar on the skin. Depending on the size of the cancer, skin may be taken from another part of the body and put on the area where the cancer was removed. This is called a skin graft. New ways of doing surgery and grafting may reduce scarring.

Radiation therapy uses x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy for skin cancer comes from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy).

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. In the treatment of skin cancer, chemotherapy is often given as a cream or lotion placed on the skin to kill cancer cells (topical chemotherapy).

Chemotherapy may also be taken by pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in a vein or muscle. Chemotherapy given in this way is called a systemic treatment because the drug enters the bloodstream, travels through the body, and can kill cancer cells outside the skin. Systemic chemotherapy is being tested in clinical trials.

Biological therapy (using the body's immune system to fight cancer) is being tested in clinical trials. Biological therapy tries to get the body to fight cancer. It uses materials made by the body or made in a laboratory to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against disease. Biological therapy is sometimes called biological response modifier (BRM) therapy or immunotherapy.

Photodynamic therapy uses a certain type of light and a special chemical to kill cancer cells.

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