Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Treatment for skin cancer and the precancerous skin lesions known as actinic keratoses varies, depending on the size, type, depth and location of the lesions. Small skin cancers limited to the surface of the skin may not require treatment beyond an initial skin biopsy that removes the entire growth.
If additional treatment is needed, options may include:
- Freezing. Your doctor may destroy actinic keratoses and some small, early skin cancers by freezing them with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery). The dead tissue sloughs off when it thaws.
- Excisional surgery. This type of treatment may be appropriate for any type of skin cancer. Your doctor cuts out (excises) the cancerous tissue and a surrounding margin of healthy skin. A wide excision — removing extra normal skin around the tumor — may be recommended in some cases.
- Laser therapy. A precise, intense beam of light vaporizes growths, generally with little damage to surrounding tissue. A doctor may use this therapy to treat superficial skin cancers.
- Mohs surgery. This procedure is for larger, recurring or difficult-to-treat skin cancers, which may include both basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Your doctor removes the skin growth layer by layer, examining each layer under the microscope, until no abnormal cells remain. This procedure allows cancerous cells to be removed without taking an excessive amount of surrounding healthy skin.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation. After removing most of a growth, your doctor scrapes away layers of cancer cells using a circular blade (curet). An electric needle destroys any remaining cancer cells. This simple, quick procedure may be used to treat small or thin basal cell cancers or squamous cell cancers.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation may be used in situations when surgery isn't an option.
- Chemotherapy. In chemotherapy, drugs are used to kill cancer cells. For cancers limited to the top layer of skin, creams or lotions containing anti-cancer agents may be applied directly to the skin. Systemic chemotherapy can be used to treat skin cancers that have spread to other parts of the body.
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT). This treatment destroys skin cancer cells with a combination of laser light and drugs that makes cancer cells sensitive to light. PDT makes your skin sensitive to light, so you will need to avoid direct sunlight for at least six weeks after treatment.
- Biological therapy. Biological treatments stimulate your immune system in order to kill cancer cells. Biological therapy medications used to treat certain skin cancer include interferon and interleukin-2.
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