Skin cancer treatment
Non-melanoma skin cancer is treated in different ways. The treatment recommended by your doctors will depend on:
- the type, size and location of the cancer
- your general health
- any medicines you are taking (these may increase the risk of bleeding after surgery or delay healing)
- whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.
If the excision biopsy removed all the cancer, you may not need any further treatment.
Learn more about:
- Making treatment decisions
- Curettage and electrodesiccation
- Topical treatments
- Photodynamic therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Treating sunspots and superficial skin cancer
- Treating advanced skin cancer
Treatment of sunspots and superficial skin cancer
Many of the treatments described in this section are used for sunspots as well as skin cancers.
Some sunspots may need treatment if they are causing symptoms or to prevent them becoming cancers.
Skin cancer that affects cells only on the surface of the top layer of the skin is called superficial. Treatment options for superficial basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in situ (Bowen’s disease) include curettage and electrodesiccation, freezing, topical creams and photodynamic therapy.
Surgery is not always used for superficial BCC and SCC in situ. It may be used if the diagnosis is uncertain or if the area of abnormal tissue does not respond non-surgical treatments.
Treating advanced skin cancer
A very small number of BCCs and SCCs spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body (advanced cancer). Your doctor will explain your treatment options depending on where the cancer is located.
Options may include surgery, radiation therapy or drug therapies such as immunotherapy, targeted therapy or chemotherapy. You may have a combination of treatments.
To work out if the skin cancer has spread, your doctor will feel nearby lymph nodes and may recommend a biopsy of the lymph nodes and imaging scans. Your surgeon will talk to you about the risks and benefits of a lymph node biopsy.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
A/Prof Stephen Shumack, Dermatologist, Royal North Shore Hospital and The University of Sydney, NSW; Dr Margaret Chua, Radiation Oncologist, Head of Radiation Oncology, Skin and Melanoma, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; John Clements, Consumer; Aoife Conway, Skin Lead and Radiation Oncology Nurse, GenesisCare, Mater Hospital, NSW; Sandra Donaldson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Kath Lockier, Consumer; Dr Isabel Gonzalez Matheus, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Principal House Officer, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; A/Prof Andrew Miller, Dermatologist, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Dr Helena Rosengren, Chair Research Committee, Skin Cancer College of Australasia, and Medical Director, Skin Repair Skin Cancer Clinic, QLD; Dr Michael Wagels, Staff Specialist Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Princess Alexandra Hospital and Surgical Treatment and Rehabilitation Service, and Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland, QLD; David Woods, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.