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Skin Cancer Treatments

Explore Your Skin Cancer Treatment Options

Depending on the type and severity, skin cancers can be treated in a variety of ways. Options range from light therapy and surgical procedures to topical creams. The expert staff at Optima Dermatology will work with you to identify the right type of treatment for you.

Surgical Skin Cancer Treatment Options

Mohs Micrographic Surgery, or Mohs Surgery

Mohs Surgery entails removing the skin layer by layer and then immediately studying the skin layers under a microscope. The sample is removed piece by piece and examined microscopically until cancer-free tissue is identified. Doing so enables the removal of all cancerous cells, leading to a cure rate of up to 99%.

Mohs Surgery is considered one of the most effective techniques for treating skin cancer. It is used for certain kinds of skin cancer such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas that are located in high risk areas such as the face.

Excisional Surgery

Excisional surgery is the traditional method used to remove skin cancers. It entails cutting the affected area of skin out, as well as removing a margin of surrounding skin to fully clear the cancerous cells. Excisional surgery can be used to treat both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers.

Electrodessication and Curettage

Electrodesication and curettage involves shaving the affected layers of the skin using a curette, which is a sharp spoon-shaped instrument. Once the cancerous layers of skin have been removed, heat is applied to cauterize the area, which helps stop bleeding.

This treatment is used for superficial, thin, non-melanoma skin cancers. There are no stitches involved. Electrodessication and curettage is also effective in treating patients with larger precancerous Actinic Keratosis.

Light and Heat Treatments for Skin Cancer

Radiation Therapy

Radiation treatment for skin cancer is ideal for patients who have a tumor that is very large or on an area of the body that makes it difficult to treat with surgery. Radiation therapy entails the use of low-energy X-rays (superficial radiation therapy) or electrons (electron beam radiation).

Radiation is often used to treat non-melanoma skin cancers like Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma, but can be used for Melanoma to delay growth. It is also frequently used in combination with other skin cancer therapies to increase treatment success.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic Therapy starts with the application of a drug that makes the affected area of skin sensitive to light. This drug may be applied using a topical cream, or it may be injected into the bloodstream through a needle. Then, a blue light or laser treatment, which activates the topical agent, is used to destroy the precancerous or cancerous cells.

A period of time must pass between application of the drug and the light treatment to ensure the drug will do its job. The light causes the drug to react and form an oxygen molecule that destroys precancerous or cancerous cells. PDT is used to treat Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Actinic Keratosis.

Other Skin Cancer Treatments


Cryosurgery is a skin cancer treatment that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the affected area. It is rarely the only treatment used for skin cancers, but can be effective at treating precancerous Actinic Keratosis on its own.

Cryosurgery can also be used to treat very superficial non-melanoma skin cancers, but this is not as effective as other methods.

Topical Treatments

There are a variety of topical treatments that can be effective for skin cancers that have not progressed very far into the skin. They are offered in creams or gels and can destroy the precancerous or cancerous cells over time through continuous application.

There are numerous topical treatments available. Topical 5-fluorouracil is a chemotherapy cream that can be used to treat precancerous and thin cancerous lesions by slowing down the growth of the rapidly dividing cancer cells. There are other creams such as imiquimod which activates the skin’s immune system to attack the cancer cells. These are just a few examples. Medications such as these can be used to treat precancerous lesions, superficial BCCs and SCCS, and even superficial melanomas.

Specific Treatments for Late Stage Melanoma

Over 90% of melanomas are found in early stages (Stage 0 or Stage I). For these cases, surgical excision is curative for the vast majority of people. IF the melanoma, however, has progressed to a deeper state (Stage III or IV), it requires additional treatment beyond the standard excision.

  • Lymph Node Sampling: a critical step in determining how far a melanoma has spread is to remove the first lymph node the melanoma will spread to. This is called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This step will help to determine if additional surgeries and/or chemotherapy/immunotherapy will be needed.
  • Surgery: When melanoma has spread to other organs, this is called metastatic melanoma. Sometimes metastatic melanoma needs to be cut out from the organs it spread to so as to allow proper functioning of that organ.
  • Immunotherapy: immunotherapy drugs can be used to stimulate the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer more effectively.
  • Targeted Therapy: Different from immunotherapy drugs, targeted therapy drugs fight Melanoma at the cellular level. Certain mutations in the melanoma’s DNA can make the cells susceptible to medications that work on these altered genes.
  • Chemotherapy: Unlike targeted therapy, which goes after abnormal cells, chemotherapy targets fast-growing cells, which is a trait of cancerous cells. It is no longer used as the first treatment method because targeted drugs and immunotherapy are more effective today. There are two primary ways to administer chemotherapy: through injection into a vein, or orally with a pill.

Get more information about Melanoma.

It is important to understand your treatment options, and we work with every one of our patients to identify a treatment plan that makes the most sense for their specific cancer and circumstances. At Optima Dermatology, we act as strong advocates for your care during what is an emotional and difficult time.