Treatment for skin cancer

Almost all skin cancers can be treated successfully if diagnosed and treated early. However if not treated, some types of skin cancer can be fatal.

No skin cancer should be neglected. The earlier any skin cancer is diagnosed, the less invasive and more successful any treatment is likely to be.

Get to know your own skin! The better you know any moles, freckles birthmarks and other blemishes you already have, the more likely it is you will recognise anything new or different about your skin.

See your general practitioner (GP) immediately if you see anything that has changed or was not on your skin the last time you looked.

Diagnosing skin cancer
Your GP will examine the suspicious spot, freckle or mole. If skin cancer is suspected, a biopsy will usually be done. A biopsy is a quick and simple procedure where part or all of the spot is removed and sent to a laboratory for testing. Your GP will tell you the result of the biopsy. If you have skin cancer your GP can discuss and advise you on the best treatment options for you or refer you to a specialist such as a dermatologist for a second opinion and/or treatment.

 Treating skin cancer

Treatment for skin cancer will depend on a number of factors:

  • The type of skin cancer
  • The size and location of the skin cancer
  • Whether the skin cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.

 Treatment options can include:

  • Surgical removal (excision) of the tumour and surrounding tissue.
  • Curettage (scraping and burning).
  • Cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen (commonly referred to as “˜freezing’).
  • Radiotherapy (use of high energy rays such as X-rays to destroy cancer cells within a     specific area).
  • MOHS is highly specialised surgery in which the cancer (generally NMSC only) is removed little by little and checked under the microscope immediately.
  • Photodynamic therapy – uses a light source and special cream to destroy cancer cells.
  • Imiquimod – a cream that destroys skin cancer by stimulating the body’s immune system to fight the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy is treatment with drugs, either pills or injections. It may be used to treat melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body.

After treatment you may need regular check-ups with your GP or specialist for early detection of any new skin cancers. If you notice any spots you are worried about between follow-up appointments it is important to speak with your GP or specialist as soon as possible.

If you feel anxious about the biopsy, diagnosis or proposed treatment talk to your medical team or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.

For more information: Understanding Melanoma and Understanding Skin Cancer booklets.