There are a wide range of skin cancers diagnosed each year, and it's important to know your specific diagnosis before you begin treatment. Two types of common skin cancers are basal cell and squamous cell, both of which are generally treated easily when caught in the early stages. Dermatologists treat basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas in the early stages and will refer the patient to a surgical oncologist if surgery is necessary, a medical oncologist if chemotherapy is considered, or a radiation oncologist if the dermatologist believes radiation is necessary to treat the cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinomas Rarely Spread
The gold standard to remove a basal cell carcinoma is Mohs surgery. This is a slow process, in which one microscopic layer of skin at a time is removed from the tumor. Each layer is then inspected under a microscope. Once the surgeon has determined that the carcinoma has been removed, no further surgery is done. This leaves as much healthy tissue as possible, while removing the cancerous tumor completely. It has highest cure rate, with only 5% of patients having a recurrence, as opposed to 15% or higher for other surgical techniques. Basal cell carcinomas can be removed as often as necessary.
Squamous Cell Carcinomas and Treatment Options
When squamous cell carcinomas are caught early, Mohs surgery is performed to remove the tumor. Sometimes squamous cell carcinoma can spread to the lymph nodes, requiring a course of radiation or chemotherapy to be performed. Squamous cell carcinomas that are small and treated early can often be removed using surgery only. If the cancer has spread or is fast growing, other treatment methods will be necessary to prevent a cancer recurrence. Talk with your treatment team about what your options are. If the cancer is advanced, you can receive systemic chemotherapy in an effort to combat the cancer cells that may have spread through your lymph system.
The third most common form of skin cancer is melanoma. Both squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are considered non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma is a more serious form of skin cancer, as it spreads more readily throughout the body than basal or squamous cell. How melanoma is treated depends on the stage of the cancer, the size of the tumors present, and the overall health of the individual. When you've been diagnosed with skin cancer, it's important to listen to your treatment team to remain up to date on the skin cancer treatments available to you.