Skin Cancer - Diagnosis & Treatment

How is skin cancer diagnosed?

Your doctor will carefully examine the skin of your body including your scalp, freckles, moles, lesions or new growths. If skin cancer is suspected, your doctor will recommend a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

Sometimes additional imaging tests may be recommended to see the extent of the cancer.

How is skin cancer treated?

Treatment options for skin cancer depend on factors such as the type of cancer, as well as the size, location and depth of the lesions.

Very small skin cancers that are restricted to the skin surface may be removed completely through biopsy.

If additional treatment is needed, your doctor may recommend any of the following:

  • Cryosurgery. This method is used to treat precancerous lesions and early cancers. It involves freezing skin cancer cells by using liquid nitrogen.
  • Mohs surgery. This is used to treat large, difficult or recurrent skin cancers. It is usually used for treating cosmetically important or sensitive areas such as the scalp, lips, eyelids, forehead, ears, fingers or genital area.
  • Excisional surgery. This is suitable for all types of skin cancer, and involves surgically removing the cancerous tissue and the adjoining margin of healthy tissue.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation or cryotherapy. It uses a sharp device with a circular blade to scrape away the cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy. It is used when cancer cells cannot be removed completely with surgical options. It involves the use of high-energy beams or radiation to kill the cancerous cells.
  • Chemotherapy. It uses drugs to destroy the cancer cells. In case the cancer cells are limited to the surface of the skin, topical anti-cancer medications can also be applied. Drugs or intravenous (IV) chemotherapy is given in cases where cancer has spread.
  • Photodynamic therapy. It destroys precancerous cells and involves application of a medication on all areas with precancerous lesions. These areas are then exposed to blue or red fluorescent light for some time to destroy the precancerous cells.
  • Immunotherapy. It involves the use of the body's own defense system to destroy skin cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy. Some tumours such as melanoma harbor genetic mutations e.g. BRAF, which are targetable by medication.
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