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[3 min read] 5 common treatments for non-melanoma skin cancer
Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, with around 800,000 confirmed cases each year. General practitioners alone have over one million skin cancer-related consultations annually, with lesion diagnosis being among patients’ most common skin concerns in primary care.
The two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer are:
- Basal cell carcinoma: the most common type of skin cancer occurring in the basal layer (the lower part) of the epidermis; and
- Squamous cell carcinoma: a common type of skin cancer which occurs in the squamous layer (the upper part) of the epidermis.
Non-melanoma skin cancer rarely metastasises beyond the skin (although this can occur), which makes it easier to treat than melanoma. The most common treatments for non-melanoma skin cancer include:
1. Excision: A very common skin cancer treatment is to excise the entire lesion with a standard margin of normal skin surrounding it. The wound is sutured, and the tissue is sent to a pathologist to examine the margins for any signs of cancer cells. If the margins do not return clear, further surgeries may be needed.
2. Mohs micrographic surgery: Another surgical option is to remove a thin layer of skin at a time and immediately evaluate it under a microscope. This is repeated until the tissue is clear of cancer cells, which helps reduce the amount of skin tissue removed.
3. Curettage and cautery: This is a procedure in which the skin’s surface is scraped off and then burned with an electric needle. This is only appropriate in early superficial skin cancers.
4. Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the surface of the skin, causing the cancer to “drop off”.
5. Topical therapies: Creams or gels are applied to attack the cancer cells.
These procedures can all be performed in a doctor’s office and require very little downtime; the patient can be treated in a short consultation and go home immediately afterwards.
More advanced skin cancers and some melanomas may require radiation therapy or chemotherapy, or major surgeries in the case of metastatic melanoma; these procedures are performed in the hospital setting.