Treatments for Skin Cancer (Nonmelanoma)

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Male doctor talking to male patient

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, types of nonmelanoma skin cancer, are the most common types of skin cancer. They have a cure rate of almost 95% if found and treated early. Treatments for these cancers range from a quick and easy tumor removal to complex treatment plans that include medications and more advanced cancer treatments.

Skin cancer treatment plans are based on a variety of factors. Your doctor will determine the best treatment plan for you based on:

  • What type of skin cancer you have
  • How advanced the cancer is
  • How aggressive the cancer is
  • Where the cancer is on your body
  • Your general health

The focus of this article is the treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer. For information about treatment of melanoma skin cancer, go to Treatments for Melanoma.

Skin Cancer Removal

Doctors generally remove skin cancer with an outpatient procedure or surgery. Your doctor may also recommend a lymph node biopsy to check if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Most people are able to return to their normal activities within a day of skin cancer removal. Problems or complications of skin cancer removal include infection, bleeding, scarring, incomplete removal of the cancer, and return of the cancer. Find a dermatologist for skin cancer removal on the Healthgrades website.

Removing abnormal cells and precancerous growths

Your doctor may use one of the following methods to remove abnormal cells and growths called actinic keratoses. Skin cancer removal prevents abnormal (precancerous) cells and growths from becoming cancerous.

  • Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy abnormal skin cells. Doctors also use cryosurgery to treat patients who cannot tolerate more invasive treatments.
  • Dermabrasion removes the top layer of skin using friction. Sometimes doctors also recommend dermabrasion to remove sun-damaged skin to prevent the development of precancerous cells and cancer.
  • Photodynamic therapy combines light-sensitive drugs with wavelengths of light. Your doctor injects the drug into your tumor and exposes it to the light. This produces a reaction that kills abnormal cells. It may also be used in some early-stage skin cancers.

Removing small or early-stage skin cancer tumors

Your doctor may use one of the following procedures to remove certain kinds of small tumors on the surface of the skin that have not spread to deeper layers:

  • Electrodesiccation and curettage scrapes off a small tumor with a sharp spoon-like tool. The wound is sealed with electric current to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
  • Laser surgery uses a laser to cut out a small tumor. Doctors sometimes use laser surgery to remove precancerous cells as well.
  • Shave excision shaves a small tumor off the skin’s surface with a thin blade.

Removing larger or high-risk skin cancer tumors

Your doctor may use surgery to remove a tumor that has spread beyond the top layer of the skin. Surgery may also be used for smaller or early-stage tumors that have a high risk of spreading or returning after treatment.

  • Mohs micrographic surgery removes the tumor layer by layer. Each layer of skin tissue is checked for cancer cells with a microscope. Your doctor takes away layers until no cancer cells are seen. This technique causes the least amount of scarring. It is a good choice for high-risk tumors and tumors on the face and ears.
  • Simple or wide excision cuts out a tumor, some tissue below it, and some surrounding healthy tissue. The amount of tissue removed depends on the size and depth of the tumor. Your doctor may also use this surgery to biopsy a tumor to diagnose skin cancer
Medical Reviewers: Brian McDonough, MD Last Review Date: Apr 9, 2013

© 2014 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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