Skin Cancer

Text Size A A

E-Mail to a Friend






secret  Click to Play Audio


Treatment Options

Treating skin cancer depends on the size, location, and stage of your cancer, whether it has spread, and your general health. At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, you will be seen by a team of doctors, including a dermatologist (specialized skin doctor), surgeon, radiation oncologist, and medical oncologist, that will work with you to determine the best treatment plan.

Treatment for skin cancer can include:

Freezing. Called cryosurgery, doctors may use liquid nitrogen on precancerous skin issues to freeze and kill the cells. The skin will later blister and shed off. This procedure will sometimes leave a white scar. More than one freezing may be needed.

Laser therapy. Doctors may also use this technique, where a narrow beam of high-intensity light can destroy precancerous skin issues that are confined to the outer layer of the skin.

Curettage and electrodessication. This is a common procedure where the cancer is removed with a sharp, spoon-shaped instrument called a curette. Electrodessication uses an electric current to control bleeding and kill any remaining cancer cells after the doctor uses the curette. You may be left with a white, flat scar after this procedure.

Surgery. Removing from the cancerous lesion from the skin can be a quick and easy process where no further treatment will be needed. These are outpatient procedures where you’ll receive a local anesthetic and can go home the same day.

Mohs surgery. This surgical technique removes the visible tumor and small fragments around the edge. The doctor will look at each fragment under a microscope until all the cancer is removed. This is typically used for larger tumors, those in hard to reach places, and for cancers that have come back in the same place.

Grafting. After a large tumor is removed, your surgeon may use a skin graft from another area of your body to close the wound and reduce scarring.

Radiation therapy. This procedure can be used for skin cancer that is hard to treat with surgery, such as skin cancer that appears on the eyelid, tip of the nose, and ear. High-energy rays or other particles are used to kill cancer cells, and several treatments may be needed. The treatment may produce a rash, make the skin dry or red, or change the color of the skin.

Topical chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is used when cancer is limited to the top layer of the skin or to treat precancerous skin conditions. It may be prescribed in a cream or lotion formula. These drugs are usually applied daily for several weeks. They may cause inflammation, which later goes away after treatment ends.

New Treatments

In addition to topical chemotherapy drugs that have been used for many years, some doctors are using Imiquimod (Aldara), which is an immune response modifier, to treat early basal cell carcinomas, actinic keratoses (squamous cell carcinoma precursors) and very thin squamous cell carcinoma. Iimiquimod is a topical medication that is applied several times a week.

Advanced Skin Cancer Treatment

In rare cases, squamous cell carcinoma can grow deeper into the skin and can spread to other parts of the body. Sites of a chronic inflammatory skin condition, mucous membranes (skin that lines the mouth, nose, vagina, and anus), and the lips are the most susceptible. Surgery alone is not effective in treating skin cancer that has metastasized (spread). In this case, treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy (which boosts the body’s immune system in order to enhance its ability to fight the cancer.)