A woman with basal cell carcinoma showing her left eye

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is one of the most common skin cancers affecting over 3.5 million Americans annually. The cancer begins in the basal cells (the type of cells within the skin that replaces old skin cells with new ones) and often appears as open pores, sores that do not heal, or a transparent bump on the skin. Fortunately, basal cell carcinoma and other non-melanoma skin cancers can be cured through superficial radiation therapy (SRT), a non-invasive targeted treatment that reverses damage to the skin and ultimately cures cancer.

Let's take a closer look at basal cell carcinoma and superficial radiation therapy and how effective the treatment is in curing the condition.

Understanding Basal Cell Carcinoma and Superficial Radiation Therapy SRT

Basal Cell Carcinoma – Overview

Basal cell carcinoma is a specific type of skin cancer that initiates in the skin's basal cells. The basal cells are responsible for replacing the old skin cells as they die with new ones, a process that constantly heals your skin and compensates for skin damage due to internal and external factors.

Basal cell carcinoma typically appears as unhealed sores, open pores, or bumps on the skin that don't go away. The condition is primarily a result of extensive and prolonged sun exposure, as ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sunlight can modify the normal functioning of the skin cell and significantly increase the risk of carcinomas.

While basal cell carcinomas often develop on sun-exposed body parts, particularly the face, neck, and head, they can develop on other parts of the body that may have remained unprotected against the sunlight. Moreover, basal cell carcinoma may also appear on body parts that have been protected from sunlight.

Some of the symptoms of basal cell carcinomas

  • Changes in skin, such as a sore or growth that doesn't heal or go away within six weeks,
  • The appearance of a shiny, skin-colored bump that's slightly raised from the rest of the skin and has translucent borders,
  • Flat, scaly patch and
  • A dark spot that continues to grow as a brown, blue, or black lesion.

Fortunately, when diagnosed at an early stage, basal cell carcinomas are largely treatable using invasive and non-invasive treatments. While invasive surgeries are required in some cases, non-invasive treatments like Superficial Radiation Therapy (SRT) are often used as the primary treatment in instances where surgical removal of the carcinoma isn’t possible.

Superficial Radiation Therapy SRT – Overview

Superficial Radiation therapy SRT is a non-invasive treatment for various types of non-melanoma skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma. The treatment plan involves the use of high-energy radiations (primarily X-rays) or micro-particles such as electrons, protons, and photons to target the cancer cells and kill them.

The treatment is effective for typically large carcinomas that cannot be removed surgically. Moreover, radiation therapy also works wonders for individuals who cannot undergo surgical removal of the carcinoma due to any pre-existing medical condition.

While superficial radiation therapy is often used as a stand-alone treatment plan, it can also be quite useful when combined with other treatments, such as following the surgery. In some instances, post-surgical treatment is recommended to completely remove cancer cells. In such cases, superficial radiation therapy is used following the surgery as an additional treatment to destroy any remaining microscopic cancer cells that may have remained within the skin even after the surgery.

Hence, superficial radiation therapy can be considered a primary treatment as well as a supplementing course of action that can reduce the risk of basal cell carcinoma from returning after the surgery.

How Superficial Radiation Therapy Works

Superficial radiation therapy is used to treat various skin cancers and is focused on killing cancer cells from outside the body.

Unlike chemotherapy, which targets the cancer cells internally, radiation works from the outside of the body using low-energy radiation (superficial radiation therapy) that targets the outermost layer of the skin and doesn't penetrate deeper than the skin's surface. As a result, the side effects of this treatment are often limited to the skin and don't cause any damage to other body tissues and organs.

Superficial radiation therapy works similarly to getting an x-ray. However, the radiation is stronger and more targeted to the cancer cells. Each radiation session is slightly longer than a regular x-ray, and your healthcare practitioner may recommend multiple treatment sessions, which are often performed as an outpatient procedure at a healthcare facility.

While the procedure is essentially painless, it can lead to some discomfort, such as warming up of the skin, and result in a few undesirable effects following the therapy.

Possible Side Effects

Possible side effects of superficial radiation therapy include the following;

  • Skin irritation which can range from dryness and itchiness to blisters and skin peeling,
  • A significant change in skin color,
  • Hair loss in the affected area, and
  • Localized damage to teeth and salivary glands if the treatment involves an area very close to the oral cavity.

As the treatment continues, some of the side effects may get worse.

How Effective is Superficial Radiation Therapy in Treating Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Superficial radiation therapy (SRT) is considered one of the most effective treatment options for treating basal cell carcinomas. The treatment has a success rate of 97.4% among elderly patients. The effectiveness of the treatment further increases, and the risk of recurrence is reduced when combined with other common treatments like surgery and cryosurgery.

However, superficial radiation therapy (SRT) may not be an effective treatment choice for everyone with basal cell carcinoma. It is not used among young patients as they often have a high recurrence rate. Moreover, superficial radiation therapy is also not recommended for individuals with certain genetic conditions, as localized radiation can worsen their condition.

Final Words

Basal cell carcinoma is a common skin cancer affecting millions of individuals in the United States and worldwide. Superficial radiation therapy is considered one of the most effective, non-invasive targeted treatments for basal cell carcinomas. While the procedure is essentially painless, it's associated with a few undesirable side effects. Moreover, it doesn't always make the perfect choice for treatment for all patients diagnosed with basal cell carcinomas.

SunCoast Skin Solutions Dermatology offices are located in Tampa / Hillsborough, St. Pete / Pinellas County, Brandon, Lutz, Winter Haven, Largo, Hudson, Leesburg, Riverview, Brooksville, Clearwater, Ocala, Palm Harbor, Daytona Beach, Sarasota, Punta Gorda, Seminole, Florida. Contact us at 1-844-786-3376 or click here.