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Treatment for Skin Cancer

What are the treatments for skin cancer?

Specific treatment for skin cancer will be determined by your child's doctor based on:

  • Your child's overall health and medical history
  • Type of skin cancer
  • Extent and location of the disease
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

There are several kinds of treatments for skin cancer. Because skin cancer is much more common in adults, many of these treatments have not been studied extensively in children, although doctors may still use them:

  • Surgery. Surgery is a common treatment for skin cancer. It is used in most treated cases. Some types of skin cancer growths can be removed very easily and require only very minor surgery, while others may require a more extensive surgical procedure. Surgery may include the following procedures:
    • Cryosurgery. Using liquid nitrogen, cryosurgery uses an instrument that sprays the liquid onto the skin, freezing and destroying the tissue.
    • Curettage and electrodesiccation. This common type of surgery involves scraping away skin tissue with a curette (a sharp surgical instrument shaped like a spoon), followed by cauterizing the wound with an electrosurgical unit.
    • Excision. A scalpel (sharp surgical instrument) may be used to excise (cut out) and remove the growth. The wound is usually stitched or held closed with skin clips (staples).
    • Mohs' microscopically controlled surgery. This type of surgery involves excising (cutting out) a cancer, layer by layer. Each piece of excised tissue is examined under a microscope. Tissue is progressively removed until no tumor cells are seen. The goal of this type of surgery is to remove all of the malignant cells and as little normal tissue as possible. It is often used with recurring tumors (those that come back after treatment).
  • Laser therapy. Laser surgery uses a narrow beam of light to destroy cancer cells, and is sometimes used for tumors located on the outer layer of skin.
  • Radiation therapy. X-rays are used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is not a common treatment for skin cancer, but it may be used for skin cancer in areas where surgery could be difficult or leave a bad scar.
  • Photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy uses a certain type of light and a special chemical to kill cancer cells.
  • Other types of treatment include the following:
    • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
      • Topical chemotherapy. Chemotherapy given as a cream or lotion placed right on the skin to kill cancer cells.
      • Systemic chemotherapy. Chemotherapy administered orally (by mouth) or intravenously (into a vein) for more advanced skin cancers.
    • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy treatment for melanoma is a complex type of treatment involving various approaches to boost the body's own immune system, helping it to attack the cancer. Some types of treatment can be applied right on tumors or injected directly into them. Other types are used for more advanced cancers and are given intravenously.  
    • Targeted therapy. Some medicines used to treat advanced skin cancers work by targeting specific parts of the cancer cells. These medicines can often be taken as a pill.

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