Learn About Treatment Options for Skin Cancer
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Research suggests that more than 3 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers will be diagnosed in the United States this year. These cancers can usually be cured when treated at early stage.
Nearly 97,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed annually. Nearly 7,000 Americans will die of melanoma this year.
The skin is the body’s largest organ. Its job is to protect internal organs against damage, heat/cold and infection. The skin is also the most exposed organ to sunlight and other forms of harmful ultraviolet rays. There are three major types of skin cancer.
- Basal cell carcinoma:The most common form of skin cancer. These cancers begin in the outer layer of skin (epidermis).
- Squamous cell carcinoma:The second most common type of skin cancer. These cancers also begin in the epidermis.
- Melanoma:The most serious skin cancer, it begins in skin cells called melanocytes that produce skin color (melanin).
If diagnosed and treated early, most skin cancers can be cured.
The treatment of localized skin cancer relies primarily on surgical removal and or radiation treatments. Pre-invasive lesions can also be treated with a number of other therapies and your dermatologist most often directs these treatments.
There are several important goals to consider in selecting the best treatment for any skin cancer including cure, functional and cosmetic outcomes, and anticipated side effects. Your doctor will review the most appropriate options for your unique skin cancer treatments.
External beam radiation therapy involves a series of daily radiation treatments that can be used to target skin cancer. Radiation treatments usually last less than 5 minutes but your appointment time is 15-30 minutes each day.
Usually skin cancer treatments are delivered daily, Monday to Friday, for three to seven weeks. In some circumstances, radiation treatments can be given in higher doses per treatment to shorten the overall treatment time. The number of treatments may also depend upon several additional factors, including tumor size and location as well as other treatments you may be receiving.
Electron beam radiation therapy can be delivered using a superficial type of radiation composed of electrons (rather than photons which most commonly used during external beam radiotherapy), which deposit radiation doses close to the surface, sparing many deep tissues while ensuring adequate dose to the surface of the tumor. Often, a rubbery material is placed on the skin surface to ensure the dose is limited to the skin as much as possible while still giving the full dose to the area needing treatment.
Orthovoltage therapy is an additional type of superficial radiation treatment with similar effectiveness in the treatment of superficial skin cancers.
Possible side effects include skin irritation, redness, peeling or itching, and temporary or permanent hair loss in the treated skin. Serious side effects of skin cancer radiation treatment are rare. However, the likelihood of these symptoms depends upon of many factors that your doctor will discuss with you at the time of your visit.
During treatment, talk to your doctor about any discomfort you feel. He or she may be able to provide medications or other treatments that may help.