Skin Cancer Treatment Options

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology Blog: Skin Cancer Treatment Options

Skin Cancer Treatment Options

Skin cancer treatment options vary depending on the type and stage of cancer. The primary treatment is surgery, which may be a stand-alone treatment or combined with other therapies.

The following are the treatment options for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma – the common types of skin cancer. They are also used for treating actinic keratosis, which is not cancer but is very likely to become one.

Standard Cancer Treatment Options for Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Basal Cell Carcinoma

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Chemical Peel
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
CenterPoint Radiation Oncology Blog: Skin Cancer Treatment Options - Surgery


Surgery is the primary treatment for squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.
One or a combination of the following surgical procedures may be used to treat these types of cancer.

Simple excision

The tumor is cut from the skin. Some of the normal tissues around it (margin) are removed, too.

Shave excision

This is done with a small blade that shaves the abnormal area off the skin’s surface.

Curretage and electrodisiccation (electrosurgery)

Doctors use a curette to cut the tumor from the skin. Then, they treat the area with an electric current using a needle-shaped electrode. The electric current stops the bleeding. If there’s any remaining cancer around the edges of the wound, it should also be able to kill it.

Mohs micrographic surgery

Doctors cut the skin tumor into thin layers. Using a microscope, they check for cancer cells on the edges of the tumor, as well as on every layer of tumor that they have removed. They continue to remove the tumor in thin layers until they find no cancer anymore. Commonly used for skin cancer on the face and genitals, this procedure allows doctors to avoid removing normal tissues as much as possible.

Laser Surgery

A narrow beam of intense light called a laser beam is used in this surgical procedure instead of a knife. This allows for bloodless cuts in tissue or the removal of surface lesions.


Also called cryotherapy, this treatment uses a tool to freeze and kill skin cancer (and other cancer types) in its original place.


Doctors use small particles or a rotating wheel to rub away skin cells or remove the top layer of the skin, respectively.

All of the above-mentioned surgical procedures are skin cancer treatment options, specifically for squamous and basal cell carcinomas. However, for basal cell carcinoma, laser surgery is rarely used. As mentioned, actinic keratosis is treated like cancer, and surgical procedures, such as simple excision, shave excision, curettage, and desiccation, dermabrasion, and laser surgery can be used.

Moreover, the aforementioned surgical treatments for basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and actinic keratosis may be used as outpatient procedures carried out by a dermatologist or another qualified doctor using a local anesthetic.

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology Treatment: Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy

External radiation is a common skin cancer treatment option, especially for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. In external radiation therapy, a large machine moves around the patient without contact and aims radiation at the cancer. Radiation may be used alone or in combination with other therapies.

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology Treatment: Chemotherapy


Topical (applied to the skin, i.e., lotion or cream) chemotherapy is used in squamous and basal cell carcinomas, as well as in actinic keratosis.

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology Treatment: Immunotherapy


A type of biological therapy, this cancer treatment option targets to strengthen the body’s natural defense against cancer. Body-produced or laboratory-made substances are used to restore or boost the body’s immune system to fight off cancer.

Some of the types of immunotherapy used to treat skin cancer are PD-1 inhibitors, interferon, and topical imiquimod therapy.

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology Treatment: Targeted Therapy

Targeted Therapy

Drugs that target specific cancer cells are used in this cancer treatment. For targeted treatment of basal cell carcinoma, signal transduction inhibitor therapy is used, wherein signals that are passed from one molecule to another inside a cell are blocked in an attempt to kill cancer.

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology Treatment: Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic Therapy

In photodynamic therapy (PDT) for skin cancer and actinic keratosis, an inactive drug is put on the skin. It becomes active when laser light is shined onto the skin. When activated, it begins to kill cancer cells. Since the activated drug collects more on the cancer cells than on healthy, normal cells, this type of therapy causes minimal damage to healthy tissues.

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology Treatment: Chemical Peel

Chemical Peel

In a chemical peel procedure (chemexfoliation or chemabrasion), the top layers of skin cells are dissolved by putting a chemical solution on the skin. It can be used for actinic keratosis, too.

A chemical peel is a skin cancer treatment option when the aim is to improve the appearance of the skin condition.

Other Skin Cancer Treatment Options Under Clinical Trials

There are skin cancer treatment options that are still under clinical trials. For more information or if you are interested in taking part in any of the clinical trials, visit the National Cancer Institutewebsite.

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