Treatment Methods
How may Skin Cancer Be Treated?

There are several methods of treating skin cancer, all highly successful in the majority of patients.

Besides Mohs micrographic surgery, these methods include excision (surgical removal) and immediate closure (suturing or sewing), curettage and electrodesiccation (scraping with a curette and burning with an electric needle), radiotherapy (x-ray), cryosurgery (freezing), topical chemotherapy (chemical destruction) and injectable chemotherapy. Which method we use depends on several factors, such as the location of the cancer, its size, and previous therapies.

Many patients ask about laser treatment of skin cancers. Laser treatment is simply another method to burn off skin cancer similar to electrodesiccation mentioned above.

Except for Mohs micrographic surgery, all other methods of skin cancer treatment require guessing how wide and deep to treat. In Mohs micrographic surgery, removed tissue is examined under the microscope and the tumor is mapped so that guessing the extent of the tumor is eliminated.

The following chart lists the points for and against the different skin cancer treatment methods.

TREATMENT METHODS
POINTS FOR
POINTS AGAINST
Mohs micrographic surgery
Highest cure rate;
normal tissue spared.
Time consuming; expensive
Excision with closure
Fast
May not remove all cancer,
especially if treated before
unsuccessfully
Excision and closure with
frozen sections in operating
room
Examines some tissue
at surgery
Does not examine all tissue
removed; expensive
Curettage and
electrodesiccation
Fast; inexpensive
Likely to leave tumor if on
face or if treated before
Radiotherapy (x-rays)
Nonsurgical
May cause additional cancer;
may scar; requires 15-20
treatment sessions; expensive
Cryosurgery
Fast; inexpensive
May not treat all tumor;
may scar
Laser
"Hi-tech"
Expensive; superficial and
unlikely to cure deeper roots
Topical chemotherapy
(5-Fluorouracil)
Good cosmetic 
result; inexpensive
Unlikely to cure cancer if
large (> 1 inch) or if on face
Injectable chemotherapy
(5-Fluorouracil or interferon)
Nonsurgical
Uncertain of long lasting cure at
this time; requires 9 separate
injections on separate days;
expensive; patient gets flu
symptoms
© Richard G. Bennett, M.D. 2003