You just found out you have skin cancer. …Now what?
Take some comfort in knowing it’s not just you. In fact, over the course of a lifetime, one in five Americans develop skin cancer. In the U.S. alone, 5 million people seek skin cancer treatment annually. As it compares to other cancers, more new cases of skin cancer arise each year than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer instances combined.
But despite these overwhelming facts, you have several treatment options with extremely high cure rates.
The selection of your treatment depends on several factors: age, health, medications, and skin thickness. Your dermatologist will need many details before deciding which treatment best suits your situation. After assessing your personal health, the location of the skin cancer will also factor into which option to choose.
The ease or difficulty in removing cells depends on the place affected. For example, a cosmetically-sensitive spot on the end of your nose requires a different approach than a spot in the middle of your back. Each case varies slightly due to these factors.
Skin Cancer Treatment Options
Your dermatologist will most likely recommend one of three treatments for your skin cancer. Two common surgical procedures are highly effective. Radiation therapy serves as a non-surgical option for those who aren’t candidates for surgery. Take comfort in knowing that each of these treatments has a cure rate above 90%.
The first option is to surgically remove the cancerous area and the skin around it. Often times, a dermatologist can perform a simple excision right in the office. The doctor then sends the tissue to a lab to have the edges checked, ensuring all cancerous cells have been removed. Typically the easiest option, an excision is an outpatient procedure.
Mohs surgery involves specially-trained dermatologists taking the skin cancer cells off the skin layer by layer. As they remove the skin in small increments, they examine it under a microscope to see if the cancer has been fully removed. If any remains, they continue the procedure. Once they take out all affected tissue, the surgery is complete.
Most patients and doctors prefer this for areas, such as the nose, where there isn’t much tissue to begin with. This technique allows the doctors to take off just enough tissue to get the skin cancer. Even though less skin is taken, Mohs surgery is the most effective way to remove skin cancer. This cures 98% of cases as opposed to the 92% cure rate of surgical excision. Although most effective, some find drawbacks in the high cost of Mohs surgery and the inconvenience of going to a different practice for a specialized surgeon.
If surgery isn’t the best choice, patients have the option of radiation therapy. Superficial radiation therapy uses x-rays to treat skin cancer. It requires multiple visits, but doesn’t leave wounds or cause pain because no tissue is removed.
For patients on blood thinners or who have cancer in a place where they want to avoid scarring, this may be the best treatment. Also, insurance typically makes this a low-cost option for the patient. It’s not an option for everyone, but with a 96% cure rate, it’s a common choice for people who are not surgical candidates.
If you’ve found yourself with a diagnosis of skin cancer, find consolation in your options. Each treatment has proven itself highly effective and success rates are only getting better. Talk with your dermatologist as soon as possible about the best choice for you.
Dr. R. Todd Plott is a board-certified dermatologist in Coppell, Keller, and Saginaw, TX. His specialization and professional interests include treating patients suffering with acne, identifying and solving complex skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and identifying and treating all types of skin cancers. In his spare time, Dr. Plott enjoys cycling, traveling with his wife, and spending time with his children and new grandson.
Learn more about Dr. Plott.