Your skin cancer treatment arsenal

Skin cancer can be treated with surgery, medications, radiation, and phototherapy (light therapy). Here's a quick overview of each option:

Surgery: There are many different types of surgery for skin cancer.

  • One of the types of surgery is excision, where a surgical knife is used to cut out the cancer cells and a small area around them (to make sure that all the cancer cells are removed).
  • Curettage and electrodessication is a procedure that uses a curette (a flat, sharp-edged scraping tool) to scrape off the cancer cells and then treats the area underneath with electrical pulses (from an electric needle) to eliminate the remaining cancer cells.
  • Cryosurgery is another technique used where liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide is used to freeze and destroy cancer cells.
  • Laser surgery uses a laser light to dry out and vaporize the cancer cells.
  • Mohs surgery is another method used for skin cancer where the cancerous tissue is removed from the skin in thin layers. This technique is mainly used for skin cancer on the face and neck, but can be used for other types of tumours such as those that have poorly defined borders, are recurrent, or have a high risk of recurrence, and for people with compromised immune systems.

Medications: Two different types of medications are used for skin cancer. Topical medications are applied to the skin, and systemic medications are given into the bloodstream (by mouth or by injection) and travel through the body. Topical medications are used to treat actinic keratosis (a non-cancerous skin lesion that is a warning sign of skin cancer) and superficial basal cell carcinoma (one type of skin cancer). Systemic medications are given to treat some cases of melanoma (a type of skin cancer) and to treat basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas (types of skin cancer) when other treatment methods are not appropriate.

Radiation: This skin cancer treatment method is used when surgery cannot be performed or is not desired. It works by exposing the affected areas to high-energy radiation (such as X-ray beams), which kills the cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Radiation therapy can also be used together with surgery.

Photodynamic therapy: This type of therapy uses a medication in combination with a laser light. The medication makes the cancer cells more sensitive to the laser light, which kills the cancer cells.

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