Find out how your doctor decides which treatment you need and the types of treatment you might have.
Deciding which treatment you needA team of doctors and other professionals discuss the best treatment and care for you. They're called a multidisciplinary team (MDT). Your treatment depends on:
- the type of skin cancer
- how far it's grown or spread
- where the cancer is
- the stage of the cancer (if relevant)
Your doctor will discuss your treatment, its benefits and the possible side effects with you.
The main treatment for skin cancer is surgery. For most people, basal cell skin cancer (BCC) and squamous cell skin cancer (SCC) can be successfully treated with surgery. The surgery is usually minor. The affected area is completely removed, usually under local anaesthetic. You might have a skin graft depending on where the cancer is in the body, or if it covers a larger area.
There are different types of surgical techniques that can be used.
Radiotherapy can be used to treat BCC or SCC. You're most likely to have this if the following apply:
- the cancer covers a wide area
- it's in an area that's difficult to operate on
- surgery isn't suitable for you
- to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after surgery
- the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
Imiquimod cream (Aldara) uses the immune system to attack cancers. Imiquimod makes cells produce more chemicals such as interferon and these destroy the skin cancer cells. It is used to treat BCC in the top layer of skin and actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis can develop into a SCC over time and so it is usually treated.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a drug to make your skin sensitive to light. The area of skin that needs to be treated is then exposed to a special type of light and the cancer cells are destroyed. PDT is used to treat BCC, Bowen's disease and actinic keratosis (solar keratosis).
ChemotherapyChemotherapy creams are used to treat:
- actinic keratosis
- skin cancers that are only on the top layer of the skin
- Bowen's disease
You usually have a type of chemotherapy cream containing Fluorouracil (5FU). Actinic or solar or actinic keratosis might develop into squamous cell skin cancer over time. So you have treatment to try to prevent this from happening.
Chemotherapy tablets or injections are only used for skin cancers that have spread. This treatment is mostly used to relieve symptoms in cancers that cannot be cured. This is still experimental treatment and you may be asked to take part in a clinical trial.
Clinical trials to improve treatment
Your doctor may ask if you’d like to take part in a clinical trial.
Doctors and researchers do trials to:
- improve treatment
- make existing treatments better
- develop new treatments