Skin Cancer Overview

Skin Cancer Treatments

As mentioned, skin cancer -- even melanoma -- can be treated successfully if it's caught early enough. The treatments vary according to the type of cancer and how advanced it is. There are also factors about the individual patient to be considered in choosing a treatment. A patient's age, overall health and tolerance for certain medications and procedures must be considered. And the patient makes the final decision -- a person may have a preference for or against a particular treatment [source: University of Maryland Medicine].

Treatments can be surprisingly simple when a skin cancer isn't too deep. If a basal skin cancer is superficial, for example, a topical medication can be used to treat it [source: College of American Pathologists].

Surgery is obviously a less simple treatment. There are several surgeries that can be done to remove skin cancer. Cryosurgery is the freezing of the cancer using liquid nitrogen in order to kill its cells. A lesion can also be removed by burning it, after which the doctor then removes it with a sharp instrument. This is known as electrodessication and curettage [source: University of Maryland Medicine]. A technique known as Mohs surgery is used when it is important to remove as little skin as possible, such as when the cancer is near a patient's eye. The surgeon removes and examines a thin layer of skin. The doctor will only remove more skin if cancer is found under that layer [source: American Cancer Society]. There is also laser therapy, which involves killing and removing cancer cells using a thin beam of light [source: University of Maryland Medicine].

Some common nonsurgical treatments include radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy uses x-rays to kill cancer cells, while chemotherapy attacks the cells with drugs uses drugs to kill the cancer.

With greater awareness, methods of prevention and treatments, it's possible to be protected from skin cancer.

To find out more information about common skin problems and diseases, follow the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Skin Cancer." (Accessed 8/7/09)
  • American Cancer Society. "Detailed Guide: Skin Cancer -- Basal and Squamous Cell." (Accessed 8/8/09)
  • Associated Press. "Study: Tanning Beds Can Be As Deadly As Arsenic." MSNBC health. July 29, 2009. (Acccessed 8/8/09)
  • College of American Pathologists. "Skin Cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma." (Accessed 8/8/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Skin Cancer." (Accessed 8/8/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Melanoma" (Accessed 8/8/09).
  • "Definition of Epidermis." (Accessed 8/7/09)
  • MedlinePlus. "Melanoma." (Accessed 8/8/09).
  • National Cancer Institute. "NCI Health Information Tip Sheet for Writers: Artificial Tanning Booths and Cancer." (Accessed 8/7/09)
  • National Cancer Institute. "What You Need to Know About Melanoma." (Accessed 8/8/09)
  • National Skin Cancer Institute. "Skin Cancer Screening." (Accessed 8/8/09)
  • New York Times Health. "Melanoma." (Accessed 8/8/09)
  • Rockoff, Alan. "Skin Cancer (Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer)." (Accessed 8/8/09)
  • SkinCancerNet. "Four Types of Melanoma." (Accessed 8/8/09)
  • The Skin Cancer Foundation. "Understanding Melanoma." (Accessed 8/8/09)
  • University of Maryland Medicine. "Skin Cancer." (Accessed 8/8/09)