16 Skin Cancer Treatments for Every Stage

Did you know that the most common form of cancer in the United States is skin cancer? According to experts, roughly 1 in 5 people in this country will develop skin cancer at some point during their lifetime. In other words, about 20% of people in the United States will develop this condition, making the need for identifying skin cancer treatments important.

What Treatments are Available for Skin Cancer?

Anyone who suspects they have any form of cancer should seek medical attention right away.

The 3 most-common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), malignant melanoma (melanoma), and squamous cell cancer (SCC). Which one the person has as well as how advanced the cancer is (grouped by stages of 0 to IV, with IV being the most severe), determine the best course of treatment.

Such treatments can include the following…

16. Simple and Shave Excisions


Sometimes a simple surgery is all that is required for treating skin cancer.

How does it work?

Surgery for skin cancer involves a surgeon physically removing the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue as well. The basic procedure where a surgeon cuts out the tumor and surrounding tissue is called a simple excision. A shave excision is when the surgeon uses a small blade to shave off both the tumor and surrounding suspect tissue.

What type of cancer can it treat?

Surgery is performed for virtually all forms of skin cancer. In early stages, such as stages 0 or I, surgical removal of cancerous tissue may be all that is required. Surgeons typically use it to treat basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell cancer (SCC), both non-melanoma cancers.

Of course, sometimes a simple or shave excision may not be the best option for removing tumors…

15. Dermabrasion


Many skincare fanatics are familiar with the concept of dermabrasion to improve their skin’s health and appearance. Dermabrasion also refers to a method of tumor removal.

How does it work?

This surgery requires the use of a special tool, specifically a rotating wheel. The surgeon uses this tool to scrape away cancerous skin cells.

What type of cancer can it treat?

Surgeons may use dermabrasion for the treatment of actinic keratosis (AK, sometimes called solar keratosis), a precancerous condition that can lead to SCC. Northwestern Medicine notes that this type of surgery is uncommon and does not allow for tissue samples, similarly to the following…

14. Laser Surgery

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Like dermabrasion, this treatment isn’t common nor does it allow for tissue sample collection. However, it does result in fewer unpleasant side effects in most patients, such as post-surgery scarring, and healing typically takes less time, too.

How does it work?

A surgeon will use a laser—that is, a highly concentrated light of a certain wavelength—to destroy the cancerous tissue.

What type of cancer can it treat?

According to Michigan Medicine, laser surgery is treatment primarily for the precancerous condition AK, although sometimes surgeons will use it to treat early, low-risk BCC.

The following procedure is more invasive, and much more common for more dangerous cancers…

13. Lymphadenectomy


Lymphadenectomy is the technical term for lymph node dissection, or a surgery that removes lymph node tissue.

How does it work?

In cases where a cancer has spread (metastasized), physicians will check nearby tissue for malignant (cancerous) cells. If they find evidence that cancer has metastasized to a nearby lymph node, they will remove these tissues as well.

What type of cancer can it treat?

According to the National Cancer Institute, this treatment is for cases of melanoma, stages 1 – IV. Obviously, this type of surgery can remove quite a lot of tissue, unlike the following…

12. Mohs Micrographic Surgery


A specific type of surgery that removes as little tissue as possible is known as Mohs micrographic surgery.

How does it work?

In this procedure, a surgeon peels back suspicious tissues layer by layer to check for cancer. In this type of surgery, once tissues no longer show signs of cancer, tissue removal stops.

What types of cancer can it treat?

According to the National Cancer Institute, this procedure is reserved for the non-melanoma skin cancers BCC and SCC, as is the following…

11. Cryosurgery

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Simple and non-invasive, cryosurgery is also known as cryotherapy.

How does it work?

The goal of treatment is to destroy abnormal tissues. Cryotherapy achieves this goal by freezing such tissues.

What type of cancer does it treat?

Cryosurgery can treat cases of SCC and BCC. Surgeons typically use it for earlier stages, such as stage 0, known as carcinoma in situ.

10. Electrosurgery

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Electrosurgery is the term for treatment consisting of both curettage and electrodesiccation.

How does it work?

Curettage involves a surgeon using a curette, a specialized tool, to physically remove tumors. Then, the surgeon uses an electrode, which sends electrical currents to the surrounding tissue to both stop any bleeding from the curettage and destroy any remaining malignant tissues. According to the National Cancer Institute, a single treatment may require this process to be repeated up to 3 times.

What type of cancer can it treat?

This procedure can help with cases of BCC and SCC. In early stages, such as stages 0 or I, surgical removal of cancerous tissue may be all that is required. In later stages, medical providers follow tumor removal with other methods, including the following…

9. Radiation Therapy


Many people know how common radiation treatment is, but just how does it work?

How does it work?

Surgeons use a form of radiation (typically X-rays) to kill cancerous cells as well as prevent them from growing and spreading.

What type of cancer can it treat?

The National Cancer Institute says that external radiation therapy can help treat cases of SCC, BCC, and melanoma, as can the following…

8. Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy is well-known as a cancer treatment, albeit an unpleasant one.

How does it work?

Chemotherapy effectively works by killing cells, both cancerous and non-cancerous. This widespread cell destruction is to blame for many of the negative effects of the procedure. Surgeons have many ways of administering chemotherapy, including:

  • Topically (on the skin)
  • Intravenously (IV)
  • Orally (by mouth)

While IV is the most common method, a medical provider will decide which option is best based on the type of cancer the patient has as well as the stage it is at.

What type of cancer can it treat?

Medical providers use chemotherapy to treat all forms of cancer, including BCC, SCC, and melanoma. In rare cases, they may deem it appropriate for the treatment of precancerous AKs. However, chemotherapy for AK is uncommon, as chemotherapy is usually reserved for treating later stages of cancer (typically II – IV).

Fortunately, the following treatment comes with much fewer unpleasant side effects…

7. Photodynamic Therapy


Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a relatively new, alternative therapy for the treatment of many cancers, including skin cancers.

How does it work?

To begin, the surgeon will inject the patient with a certain drug or apply it to the skin. This drug’s job is to collect cells, especially cancerous ones. Later, the surgeon will then use a special light to activate the drug. Once activated, the drug begins killing the cells it has collected.

What type of cancer can it treat?

PDT is not as common as other forms of treatment. When medical providers use it, though, it is typically for less serious cases of cancer or even AKs, although researchers hope it can later be useful in treating more serious cancers in the future.

6. Immunotherapy


The immune system is the body’s first line of defense against infection and disease. Immunotherapy (biotherapy, biologic therapy) makes use of the patient’s immune system to help fight cancer.

How does it work?

There are several types of immunotherapy. What they all involve, though, is that they use naturally occurring substances in the body—or functionally similar synthetic substances—to give the patient’s immune system a boost so that it can better fight cancer.

What type of cancer can it treat?

According to the National Cancer Institute, this treatment is common for the following cancerous conditions:

  • Localized BCC, or BCC that has not spread
  • Metastatic SCC, or SCC that has spread
  • AK
  • Stages III and IV as well as recurrent melanoma

The following procedure is less about killing malignant cells so much as it is about reducing unwanted appearances of unattractive growths…

5. Chemical Peel


Chemical peels are also known as chemexfoliation and chemabrasion.

How does it work?

As the name implies, chemical peels are chemical substances that one applies to the skin. Once applied, the peel begins dissolving the skin’s top layers.

What type of cancer can it treat?

Since this treatment does not reach far, medical providers may simply use it to treat AK, a precancerous condition, to reduce the odds of AK becoming cancerous while also improving the way skin looks.

4. Targeted Therapy


In certain cases, medical providers may opt for targeted therapy since it can result in fewer unpleasant side effects than other treatment methods, such as radiation or chemotherapy.

How does it work?

Targeted therapy, as the name suggests, is therapy designed to target cancerous cells. While there are many types of targeted therapy, they all work based on the idea that they largely target cancerous cells instead of healthy ones.

What type of cancer can it treat?

According to the National Cancer Institute, targeted therapy may treat the following:

  • Metastatic BCC
  • Stages III and IV as well as recurrent melanoma

3. Vaccine Therapy


Vaccines can help the immune system build defenses against certain diseases and conditions, such as chicken pox and polio. In the near-future, experts hope that vaccine therapy could also be effective in the treatment of melanoma.

How does it work?

Vaccines work by introducing a neutered pathogen to the immune system. Importantly, this process will not make the patient sick, but it does let the immune system get to know the pathogen and develop a well-mounted response to it. This way, in case someone encounters this pathogen in the future, the immune system is well-prepared to fight it off.

In the case of melanoma, researchers are examining how to use vaccines to stimulate tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) activity, which experts believe can improve patient prognosis.

What type of cancer can it treat?

According to the National Cancer Institute, researchers are examining how this therapy can help treat stage III melanoma that can be surgically removed. Of course, there are plenty of other clinical trials underway that are examining other possible treatment methods…

2. Clinical Trials


Sometimes no treatment methods currently approved are able to help someone with cancer. In such cases, enrolling in a clinical trial may be the best option.

How does it work?

Clinical trials are what any treatment has to go through before it can begin the approval process. In other words, clinical trials allow researchers to examine new methods of treatment on volunteers to examine each treatment’s effectiveness.

While sometimes clinical trials are successful, it’s important to note that not every tested treatment will work. Further, some patients in the trials will only receive a placebo. That is, they only think they are receiving a new treatment when they are not. Placebo use is important so that researchers have a control group with which to examine the real treatment’s efficacy.

How can someone find clinical trials?

Those interested in learning more about clinical trials can search for available ones using the National Cancer Institute’s database. Those interested in learning more about clinical trials supported by both private and public sources can visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s clinical trials database.

Of course, the best course of treatment for any kind of skin carcinoma includes…

1. Prevention

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There’s truth to the saying prevention is the best medicine. Fortunately, skin cancer prevention isn’t hard (or expensive) at all.

What methods help prevent skin cancer?

Some risk factors for skin cancer are unavoidable, such as family history and aging. Other factors, though, are largely within our control. Some key prevention methods include:

  • Wearing SPF 15+ sunscreen daily, even if it’s cloudy out and you’re sitting in the shade
  • Not smoking, an action which can increase the risk of cutaneous SCC
  • Not tanning and/or avoiding tanning beds
  • Wearing sunglasses that offer UVA and UVB protection
  • Wearing protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts
  • Seeking shade when outdoors, especially between the hours of “10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Daylight Saving Time (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time)” in the contiguous United States, according to the CDC
  • Consulting with a licensed medical professional if you have any concerns about your risk of skin cancer or the potential that you already have this disease

Disclaimer: this article does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have an emergency or a serious medical question, please contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately.

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