Skin Cancer Treatments: Alternatives to Surgery
Any skin cancer diagnosis should be treated promptly to ensure the achievement of optimal outcomes. While some lesions do require surgical removal, for smaller, superficial tumors identified in the early stages of development, non-surgical treatment options are also available. If you are concerned about a skin lesion or irregularity, our team of Board certified providers can help. With years of experience combined with compassion and care, we will guide you through treatment options to select the most effective and appropriate treatment for your skin cancer.
Types of Non-Surgical Skin Cancer Treatments
Most non-surgical skin cancer treatments are used to treat basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, or pre-cancerous growths, such as actinic keratosis. Non-surgical treatment options include radiation therapy, topical chemotherapy, freezing, and light therapy.
- Cryotherapy—this treatment method involves freezing the lesion with liquid nitrogen. This process is often used to treat actinic keratoses, pre-cancerous lesions. The abnormal cells are frozen with liquid nitrogen. Patients experience a slight stinging or burning sensation during this procedure. Following treatment, the treated area is likely to redden, swell, and blister as the treatment takes effect. Over the next several days or weeks, the area may begin to weep periodically, and can crust over. Usually within approximately 2-4 weeks following the procedure, the crust will flake off naturally, and the entire healing process is usually complete within about six weeks after initial treatment.
- Topical Chemotherapy—this treatment involves applying a prescription cream that contains a cancer-killing compound to the affected area of skin as directed by your doctor. It is an excellent treatment option for actinic keratosis and some superficial skin cancers. The topical compound is applied to the affected area and destroys the cancerous or precancerous cells. Because the application is topical, as opposed to systemic, the treatment does not usually carry the same side-effects as chemotherapy by injection, so it is generally easier to tolerate. However, the topical compound can only reach the uppermost layers of skin, so it is not effective at treating deeper, more entrenched skin cancer lesions.
- Topical Immune Response Modifiers—topical creams, such as imiquimod, can increase the body’s natural immune response and help treat the development of abnormal cells. This treatment is generally used on pre-cancerous lesions, such as actinic keratosis and some superficial skin cancers, but can also be effective for other non-cancerous lesions such as warts. These topical treatments will typically produce redness and irritation at the treatment site, and in rare cases, may also result in flu-like symptoms.
- Radiation Therapy—radiation therapy, although not the recommended first line treatment, is a good alternative to surgical treatments for patients who are unable to tolerate surgery, who do not want surgery, or who are poor candidates for surgery due to serious medical conditions or low life expectancy. Radiation treatment requires a series of sequential appointments to a radiation oncologist to complete the treatment.
- Photodynamic Therapy—this innovative treatment option is relatively new, and as such, has only been approved in the US for treatment of certain types of actinic keratosis, although it may also be an effective treatment for superficial skin cancers. This two-part treatment involves application of a topical compound that increases the photosensitivity of skin cells, and tends to gather in higher concentrations within the cancerous cells. Following the absorption of the drug, a strong light is shone upon the treatment area, destroying the cancerous cells.
- Curettage—this non-surgical technique involves scraping away layers of the cancerous lesion with a circular to oval-shaped instrument called a curette. A local anesthetic is injected to mitigate any discomfort during the procedure. This procedure is typically used in non-sensitive areas of the body where some slight scarring is tolerable. It is generally reserved and effective on superficial cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions.
Contact Metro East Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center
The team at Metro East Dermatology and Skin Care Center is dedicated to excellence in patience care. With years of specialized training, and the same compassion, caring, and personalized attention you expect from your family doctor, we will work closely with you, your dermatologist (if you were referred by one), and your primary care physician to develop a personalized course of dermatologic treatment designed to successfully address your specific health concerns. If you are seeking non-surgical therapies for skin cancers or pre-cancers, we encourage you to contact us and schedule your consultation today.