Squamous Cell and Basal Cell Skin Cancer Treatment Part 2: Non-Surgical Treatment Options
Skin Cancer Care Specialists | May 4, 2018
For squamous and basal cell skin cancers that have not metastasized, spreading to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body, surgery is not the only treatment option. While the following alternative treatments are sometimes compared to surgery because they destroy targeted areas of tissue, they differ in that they do not involve cutting into the skin with a scalpel.
Here are a few of these treatments:
- Cryotherapy (sometimes called cryosurgery) involves freezing and killing the cancerous cells. During a single office visit, the doctor applies liquid nitrogen to the affected area two or three times. Afterward, when the treated area thaws, the skin will swell up, blister, and finally crust over. As it heals over the next couple of months, there may be some fluid that drains from the wound, and afterward there will be a visible scar or area of discoloration at the treatment site. This procedure is most often used for small squamous or basal cell carcinomas, as well as for pre-cancerous skin conditions.
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a photosensitizing drug and light to kill tumor cells. The drug is applied to the skin in a liquid form that then soaks into the tumor cells over the course of several hours or even a few days. Inside the tumor cells, the drug converts into a chemical that makes the cells extremely sensitive to particular kinds of light, which are then focused on the tumor through a special light source to kill the cells. Redness and swelling are common side effects, as well as an increased sensitivity to sunlight, so extra precautions are then necessary to prevent burning. While this treatment is effective in actinic keratosis, its effectiveness in treating squamous and basal cell carcinomas is still being determined.
- Topical chemotherapy is an alternative to orally administered or injected forms of chemotherapy. Most people are familiar with chemotherapy, the use of drugs that kill cancer cells, but they may be unfamiliar with topical treatments involving the application of chemotherapy drugs directly to the skin in an ointment or cream.
The most common drug used in topical chemotherapy is 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), but two others are Diclofenac (Solaraze) and Ingenol mebutate (Picato). These all require one or two applications daily for a period of time ranging from several days to a few months, and they cause varying degrees of skin reactions and have varying speeds of efficacy.
The advantage of topical chemotherapy is that its side effects are more limited than chemotherapy treatments that affect the whole body. Often side effects include redness and sensitivity in the treated skin, but these can be relieved with other topical medications. For a very small percentage of people, those who have DPD deficiency, side effects can be severe and even life-threatening when using 5-FU, so close attention must be paid to any side effects other than what the doctor says to expect.
If you would like more information about your options to treat skin cancer please contact our office at 561-775-6011 to set up a consultation.