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Skin Cancer Treatment

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. If you need chemotherapy please see this resource on chemo side effects. 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:

1. Surgery
Most basal cell and squamous cell cancers can be successfully treated with surgery. In most cases the surgery is minor. The affected area is completely removed, usually under local anaesthetic. There are several different types of surgery techniques that can be used. As for small cancer are often operated on under local anaesthetic, and general anaesthetic is needed by a larger cancer. If your cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, surgeon will need to remove them. Even though there may be no sign of actual spread, a few cancer cells can be missed. If they are not removed they can go on to develop into new tumours and spread further to other parts of the body.

2. Radiotherapy
Radiotherapy is usually used to treat basal cell or squamous cell cancers (non-melanoma skin cancer). In some situations radiotherapy may be used as well as surgery. If there is a risk that cancer cells may have been left behind, radiotherapy may be used after surgery. This is called adjuvant treatment. It reduces the risk of the cancer coming back in the future.

Radiotherapy can also be used to treat cancer that has spread to lymph nodes. In advanced cancer which has spread to another part of the body, radiotherapy can be used to relieve symptoms. It is also used to treat cancers that have come back (recurred) after they were first treated with surgery.

3. Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy (“chemo”) uses drugs that kill cancer cells. The drugs are usually injected into a vein or given by mouth. They travel through the bloodstream to all parts of the body and attack cancer cells that have already spread beyond the skin to lymph nodes and other organs. Because the drug reaches all areas of the body, it is called a systemic therapy.

Chemo is often used to treat advanced melanoma. Although it is usually not as effective in melanoma as it is in some other types of cancer, chemo may relieve symptoms or extend survival for some patients.

4. Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy stimulates a patient’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Several types of immunotherapy can be used in treating patients with advanced melanoma.

5. Alternative Treatment
Alternative treatments may be offered as cancer cures. These treatments have not been proven safe and effective in clinical trials. Some of these methods may pose danger, or have life-threatening side effects. But the biggest danger in most cases is that you may lose the chance to be helped by standard medical treatment. Delays or interruptions in your medical treatments may give the cancer more time to grow and make it less likely that treatment will help.

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