Treatment for Skin Cancer

Specific treatment for skin cancer will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • The type of skin cancer

  • Location and extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

There are several kinds of treatments for skin cancer, including the following:

  • Surgery. Surgery is a common treatment for skin cancer. It is used in most cases when the cancer is still at an early stage. Some types of skin cancer growths can be removed very easily and require only very minor surgery, while others may require a more extensive surgical procedure. Surgery may include the following procedures:

    • Cryosurgery. Freezing the tumor, which kills cancer cells.

    • Electrodesiccation and curettage. The tumor is cut from the skin using a sharp instrument called a curettage, then a needle-shaped electrode is used to stop bleeding and kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind in the edges of the wound.

    • Grafting. Uses a skin graft taken from another part of the body to replace skin when cancer is removed.

    • Laser therapy. Using a narrow beam of light to remove cancer cells.

    • Mohs surgery. This procedure removes the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible. During this surgery, the surgeon removes the cancer and then uses a microscope to look at the edges of the tumor to make sure no cancer cells remain.

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

    • Dermabrasion. Removing the top layer of skin using a rotating wheel or small particles to rub away skin cells.

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses a radiation machine that emits X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.

  • Chemotherapy. Treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells:

    • Topical chemotherapy. Chemotherapy given as a cream or lotion placed on the skin to kill cancer cells.

    • Systemic chemotherapy. Chemotherapy taken by pill, or needle injection into a vein or muscle to treat more advanced skin cancer.

  • Biological therapy (also called biological response modifier therapy, or immunotherapy). Biological therapy tries to get your own body to fight cancer by using materials made by your own body, or made in a laboratory, to boost, direct, or restore your body's natural defenses against disease. Some types of treatment can be applied on tumors or injected into them. Other types are used for more advanced cancers and are given as an injection into the vein.  

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

  • Targeted therapy. Some medicines used to treat advanced skin cancers work by targeting specific parts of the cancer cells. These medicines can often be taken as a pill.