The skin is the largest organ in the body and helps in protecting the body against infection, sunlight, heat and injury. It also helps in storing vitamin D, water and fat and controlling the body temperature. Skin cancer can originate anywhere on the body but is commonly observed in people whose neck, arms, hands and face are exposed to sunlight. Most common types are squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma. A skin condition known as actinic keratosis sometimes advances to squamous cell carcinoma. Various effective treatment methods are given below:
The main treatment is surgery and for most patients this is all that is needed to be skin cancer free. In most cases a minor surgery is required to treat the squamous and basal cell skin cancers. Under a local anesthetic, the affected area is removed completely. However different techniques are used depending upon the size, type, location and stage of the cancer.
A larger cancer may require a general anesthetic and a skin graft/skin flap may be required if the cancer covers a large area. It will be stitched in place over the wound and be connected to its own supply of blood. If there is a risk of the cancer being spread to the lymph nodes, they will be removed by the doctor too.
Radiotherapy is used if the surgery isn’t suitable for the patient (due to old age or other health issue), cancer is detected in an area that is cumbersome to operate on. In some patients, it is used after surgery (adjuvant treatment) to prevent cancer in future.
Cancer which has spread to the lymph nodes can also be treated with this method and relieve symptoms of advanced cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
Chemo injections/ tablets/ creams are used only in certain circumstances for skin cancer. Chemo cream is used to treat actinic keratosis and solar (cancers present only on skin’s top layer).
Interferon is used to treat squamous cell cancers that start in the mouth, nose or inside the neck and head area by stimulating the immune system to pick and fight the cancer cells in the body. Aldara (Imiquimod cream) is a new immunotherapy treatment which is used for basal cell carcinoma and actinic keratosis. This treatment uses the body’s natural defense/ immune system to kill the cancer cells by enabling the cells to produce chemicals like interferon.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
This is a new alternative to surgery and exposes the affected area to a special kind of light that kills cancer cells. Solar keratosis, basal cell skin cancer etc. is treated efficiently by this method. Also the treated area appears better after PDT as opposed to surgery which means that it has better cosmetic outcome.