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We all know how deadly melanoma can be, as it’s one of the most common types of skin cancers. However, non-melanoma skin cancers can also take a toll on your health. Since there’s a wide variety of non-melanoma cancers that affect many people worldwide, there isn’t only one type of specialist who can deal with them.
Therefore, there’s a multidisciplinary team of doctors that may be involved in the treatment. These doctors may include plastic surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, and dermatologists.
How to decide the right treatment option
Choosing the right treatment option depends on many factors, such as the location and size of cancer, the patient’s overall health, and any possible side effects. Therefore, take the time to understand everything surrounding your treatment options and speak to your doctor to know the goals and expectations for each intervention before you proceed to undergo it.
Treatments for non-melanoma cancers
Surgery is the primary form of treatment for most non-melanoma cancers; however, it usually depends on your different circumstances. Surgical excision, as the name suggests, involves cutting cancer out. However, in the process, some of your healthy tissue may also be removed to ensure there is no cancer to be found.
Sometimes it’s also done in collaboration with a skin graft. A skin graft typically involves removing a healthy patch of your skin from areas without any scarring, such as your abdomen, neck, and upper thigh. In a majority of cases, surgery is able to cure non-melanoma cancers completely. However, in rare cases, you may have to resort to other treatments mentioned below.
Electrocautery and curettage
While both techniques are similar to surgical excision, they aren’t performed on a large scale because the cancer types they treat are quite small. The surgeon will use a blade to remove cancer and then cauterize or burn the skin to ensure that no cancer cells remain. Following this, they will likely seal the wound. However, you may have to get the procedure done twice or thrice to remove the cancer completely.
This type of therapy is used to treat actinic keratoses, Bowen’s disease, and basal cell carcinoma. The procedure starts with a cream application to make the target area sensitive to light.
Once your professional has moved past this phase, they will expose the area to a strong light source, killing any cancer present there. You can expect to go through a slight burning sensation during the procedure, and there may also be some form of scarring, but it’s usually less than what you get with surgery.
Cryotherapy is also a widely practiced treatment, and it involves the use of cold treatment to treat early-stage non-melanoma skin cancers. The idea behind the treatment is to freeze your cancer using liquid nitrogen, so it’s able to create a scab with cancer inside it. After a month or so, you can expect the scab to fall off, eliminating cancer. However, it may leave a scar behind.
Even though it’s not widely practiced to treat non-melanoma cancers, your healthcare professional may recommend it if surgery or chemotherapy has not worked at all. As the name suggests, the procedure provides you with chemotherapy inside the tumor or even intravenously. The electric pulses ensure that the medicine is able to cause greater damage to the tumor.
However, the professional may use a general anesthetic since the procedure is invasive. This way, the area under treatment remains numb whether you’re conscious or unconscious. Typically, it may last for about an hour, depending on the number and size of tumors in question.
A common side effect you may experience following the procedure is pain, especially surrounding the area where an electrode was used. Once you’re past the side effects, you will start noticing that the results have become apparent; however, you may still need to undergo the procedure again.
The procedure consists of low radiation doses to kill cancer, and the level of radiation you’re exposed to is safe. It’s natural to feel slight soreness on the target area at least for a few weeks following the procedure.
In some cases, it’s also used to treat squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas if cancer has spread to a large area and your professional doesn’t recommend surgery. Surgery is often ruled out because of complications involved while operating. The procedure is sometimes used following surgical excision if your professional suspects that cancer may come back without it.
Your healthcare professional may recommend using anti-cancer creams only if your tumor is within the skin’s top layer. This means that creams are only suitable for early-stage cancers contained in the first layer of your skin. Hence, some cancers that creams may be able to treat are Bowen’s disease and early basal cell carcinoma.
The chemotherapy creams used for non-melanoma cancers usually consist of 5-fluorouracil, and as per your doctor’s recommendation, you may have to apply it to the target area for many weeks. Another type of cream most professionals recommend has imiquimod, which causes your immune system to attack skin cancer.
You may have to use this cream for several weeks, too, based on what your doctor recommends. Some side effects you can expect to experience include itchy skin, flaking, and redness. There can be serious side effects like skin ulceration or blistering, too, but they’re relatively rare.
The Bottom Line
Thanks to the many wonders of technology, we have more options to deal with non-melanoma cancers than we did in the past. While most of these cancers aren’t fatal, early detection is the only way to determine the right course of treatment.
Therefore, the type of treatment your professional recommends will depend on several factors such as the type of cancer, the size, and location of cancer, your age, immunity, and your ability to handle the side effects that may follow a particular course of treatment.