Treating Skin Cancer

by Katelyn Schwanke
(last updated September 5, 2008)

If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, your dermatologist may suggest several alternatives for treatment. Understanding your options for treating skin cancer can be helpful in making the decision of which one to choose. The most popular treatments and therapies are radiation therapy, chemotherapy, cryotherapy, and excision.

Excision, or removal of the cancer, is the most popular treatment. Excision simply removes cancer cells, leaving the healthy cells behind. Excision provides the very best treatment for both high-risk and low-risk cancers. For those that worry about cosmetic damages, a new technique called "Moh's microsurgery" has recently been developed. Moh's microsurgery removes only cancerous cells and as few healthy cells as possible so that there will be minimal cosmetic damage. If you wish to have this technique used, you should ask your doctor before excision if he is trained in Moh's microsurgery.

Radiation therapy and cryotherapy (freezing off of cancerous tissue) are generally used for low-risk skin cancer because it is not quite as effective as excision (or other surgical methods). Cryotherapy is preferred to radiation therapy because it has very few side effects. If you choose cryotherapy, your physician will use liquid nitrogen (a gas) to freeze specific tissue. Cryotherapy is relatively painless. Radiation therapy is often chosen because it can, like cryotherapy, target only cancerous cells with beams of radiation. As mentioned above, radiation therapy does have considerably more side effects than cryotherapy; the side effects of radiation include infertility, swelling, fatigue, hair loss etc.

Chemotherapy is often a last result for treatment of skin cancer; chemotherapy is often used for high-risk skin cancers that have metastasized (spread) in other tissues. If skin cancer metastasizes then other tissues will become cancerous and cause illness. Chemotherapy is chemical therapy. If chemotherapy is necessary then treatment will begin with chemicals that reduce the size of the cancerous mass followed by medication that reduces risk of the regrowth of cancerous cells.

Although the treatments discussed are successful, the very best thing for you to do is practice preventative methods. Preventative methods include limiting your exposure to the sun, limiting your use of tanning beds and wearing sunscreen everyday (no matter what the weather is).

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