Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed each year. Although other types of cancers can spread to the skin, skin cancer begins there, resulting from uncontrolled growth of skins cells whose DNA has been damaged by ultraviolet radiation. This, in turn, triggers mutations that cause skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant growths. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell cancers, followed by melanomas.
This treatment involves using a local anesthetic on the area and scraping away the affected area with an instrument called a curette. The wound is generally cauterized to minimize bleeding. Curettage and desiccation is used on superficial basal and squamous cell carcinomas with well-defined borders, most often located on the trunk.
Topical prescription medications are a popular alternative to invasive surgeries, particularly for small and shallow basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, as well as to treat pre-malignant conditions such as actinic keratoses. Topical chemotherapy treatments directly target cancer cells to produce an immune response. Treatment can last up to 12 weeks.
Photodynamic therapy is used to treat pre-malignant growths with photosensitizing drugs that are activated by certain wavelengths as light. PDT is minimally invasive, has no long-term side effects and may be administered repeatedly. The drug, usually a liquid or cream, is applied to the area and allowed to dry anywhere from 30 minutes to up to 18 hours, depending on the treatment area and condition. Skin is exposed to a special blue light and then cleansed and treated with sunscreen.
Brachytherapy delivers a dose of radiation to a precisely targeted area, thus sparing healthy tissue surrounding the affected area. Two types are available: isotope based and electronic. This therapy provides good cosmetic results and is also highly effective in preventing the skin cancer from recurring.
In Mohs surgery, the skin cancer surgeon removes visible skin cancer and adjacent skin and soft tissue. From this, maps are created to follow tumor extensions. Excisions continue until no cancer cells are present in microscopic examinations. This surgery offers the highest cure rate, at approximately 98 to 99 percent, for treatment of basal cell and squamous cell cancers. It also works well on melanoma and other less common types of cancer.