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Skin cancer treatment

Skin cancers can be either melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers. The vast majority of deaths from skin cancer are from melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers are usually basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) or squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs). Non-melanoma skin cancers are found more commonly on sun exposed areas such as the face or forearms.

In choosing the best treatment option, your doctor will consider your age and general health, the type and size of cancer, where it is on your body and what you want. The treatment choice will also depend on whether the skin cancer has spread elsewhere in your body. BCCs do not spread to distant parts of the  body but can invade into local tissues. SCCs occasionally spread to nearby lymph nodes and beyond, but melanomas cause the majority of deaths because or their propensity to spread, known as metastasising.

The initial treatment usually is to cut out a skin lesion suspicious as being cancer. This may be a biopsy (a removal of a small sample of the lesion for analysis) or a full excision, freezing or scraping the lesion. If a lesion is suspected of being a melanoma, a ‘wide excision’ (having a tumour clear area 0.5 to 1cm around the lesion excised) is conducted to reduce risk of later metastases occurring.

Larger skin excisions are sometimes required to remove skin cancers, and  the wound may require skin from other parts of the body to be used. This can be done by a skin flap (nearby skin being used) or a skin graft (from skin elsewhere in the  body being excised and grafted on to the area).

Other treatment options for skin cancers that have spread or may have spread to other parts of the body include:

Last reviewed: September 2016

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