The treatment of skin cancer depends on many factors: stage and location of the tumor, age and your health. Survival chance is higher when the cancer is diagnosed early. In general, the treatment of skin cancer includes surgery, electrocautery, cryosurgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy; dynamic photherapy can also be used.
Also called cryosurgery, cryoablation or targeted cryoablation therapy, cryotherapy is the application of extreme cold to destroy diseased tissue, including cancerous cells. During the procedure, your physician uses a cryoprobe, a surgical instrument used to conduct intense cold to small areas of body tissues in order to destroy them. The physician is guided by imaging techniques to position the cryoprobe precisely on the treated area. While he is freezing the tissue, he visualizes the movement of the device in real time on a monitor like a television screen.
Skin Cancer Surgery
Surgery is the essential treatment of skin cancer; In fact, most skin cancers diagnosed and removed early need no other therapeutic intervention after the surgery. It is estimated that 80% of skin cancers, detected early, are successfully treated with surgery. Depending on the extension of the tumor, your surgeon can perform an excisional surgery, laser therapy, Mohs surgery or curettage.
- Excisional surgery – this is, by far,the most common surgical treatment used to treat skin cancer. It consists of using a scalpel to remove cancerous tissue and a surrounding margin of healthy skin.
- Laser therapy – this method consists of using high-intensity light to kill cancerous tissue or to shrink or destroy tumors.
- Mohs surgery – this surgical procedure is used to treat large basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. During the procedure, your surgeon removes the skin growth layer by layer, and immediately examines each layer under microscopeto search for cancer cells.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation – this is a simple procedurepracticed, most of the times,in the cases of small basal cell and squamous cell tumors. It consists of removing the tumor from the skin with a curette, a surgical instrument designed for scraping biological tissue or debris during a biopsy.After the tumor is removed, your surgeon will use an electric needle to cauterize the remaining cancer cells.
Skin cancer Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is an important weapon in the treatment of advanced or metastatic skin cancer. It consists of using strong drugs to destroy cancer cells by preventing them from multiplying. The protocol varies depending on the stage of the cancer and your health. In early stage cancers, creams or lotions containing anti-cancer agents can be used to kill the cancer cells. These chemotherapeutic agents can be administered alone or in combination. Your doctor will use the option best suits your case.
Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy)
Radiotherapy is a local treatment that affects the tumor and the area close to it. In general, it consists of using of ionizing radiation to destroy cancer cells. Radiation is often practiced in advanced or metastatic skin cancer to relieve symptoms. Radiotherapy can be used in association with surgical therapy or alone when surgery is not an option.
Biological Therapy (Immunotherapy)
Also called biological therapy, immunotherapy is the use of drugs to strengthen your immune system to help your body fight the cancer cells. These drugs act by activating your immune cells so they attack cancer cells and destroy them. Interferon and interleukin-2 are the two most used drugs in the treatment of melanoma. Some of their adverse effects include:
- Muscle aches.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
This new form of therapy involves application of a photosensitizing substance (causing tissue susceptibility to certain lights) on the skin for several hours before exposing it to a particular light, which can be a blue or red. The substance is applied on the skin as a liquid or a cream containing aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA-HCl) or methyl aminolevulinate (MAL). Once on the skin, the drug is absorbed by the diseased tissue and sebaceous glands. Exposure to the light activates the substance in the tissue, and causes its destruction. You will need to avoid direct sunlight for at least six weeks after treatment.