Understanding Treatment Options for Skin Cancer

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By News Team on August 17, 2022

When it comes to treating skin cancer, you have a variety of options.

“The diagnosis of skin cancer can often induce fear and anxiety in our patients,” says Kyle Prickett, M.D., a specialist with Carilion Clinic Dermatology and Mohs Surgery. “Fortunately, as dermatologists, we have numerous modalities for effectively treating skin cancer.”

Of course, your best protection against skin cancer is prevention. Visit "Prevent and Detect Skin Cancer" to see our Dermatology team's prevention tips and recommendations.

Mohs Surgery

Mohs surgery is most appropriate for skin cancers that are on the head, neck, hands, feet or other locations that have aggressive features. However, not all skin cancers require or are suitable for treatment with Mohs surgery.

Alternatives include surgical excision, "destructive" techniques like cryotherapy, or topical creams.

“The decision on the most appropriate approach to treating your skin cancer is often made in tandem with your dermatologist,” adds Dr. Prickett. “Topical treatments are nice options for avoiding surgery when the cancer is early or superficial provide a relative lack of scarring. Surgical approaches tend to offer higher cure rates with the ability to completely remove the cancer, but are more invasive and time-intensive.”

Surgical Excision

This process involves the removal of skin cancer along with some of the healthy skin tissue around it.

Destructive Techniques

These include cryotherapy or electrodesiccation and/or curettage, and they are best suited for early or more superficial skin cancers.

Cryotherapy is the process of destroying skin cancer by freezing it with liquid nitrogen. Electrodesiccation and/or curettage is most effective for thin or “superficial” basal cell and squamous cell cancers and involves scraping the affected area then treating it with an electric needle to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

Topical Creams

These include imiquimod and 5-fluorouracil with or without calcipotriene. They often have a prolonged course that ranges from one to eight weeks of application. Patients usually apply the creams to the affected areas once or twice a day. It will make skin lesions feel irritated and look red, swollen and crusted. However, this is a sign that the treatment is working.

As with all medical interventions, side effects such as scarring, bleeding or infection can occur. Fortunately, infection and bleeding are rare complications in dermatologic surgery. 

If you have a history of skin cancer or a recent diagnosis of skin cancer, discuss with your primary care provider if referral to a Mohs surgeon or appointment with a general dermatologist would be appropriate.

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