- How are basal and squamous cell skin cancers treated?
- Surgery for basal and squamous cell skin cancers
- Other forms of local therapy for basal and squamous cell skin cancers
- Radiation therapy for basal and squamous cell skin cancers
- Systemic chemotherapy for basal and squamous cell skin cancers
- Targeted therapy for basal and squamous cell skin cancers
- Clinical trials for basal and squamous cell skin cancers
- Complementary and alternative therapies for basal and squamous cell skin cancers
- Treating basal cell carcinoma
- Treating squamous cell carcinoma of the skin
- Treating actinic keratosis
- Treating Bowen disease
- More treatment information for basal and squamous cell skin cancers
Treating basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell skin cancer very rarely spreads to other parts of the body, although it can grow into nearby tissues if not treated. Several methods can be used to remove or destroy these cancers. The choice may depend on factors such as the tumor size and location, and the patient’s age, general health, and preferences.
All of the treatment methods listed here can be effective. The chance of the cancer coming back (recurring) ranges from less than 5% for Mohs surgery to up to 15% or higher for some of the others, but this depends on the size of the tumor. Small tumors are less likely to recur than larger ones. Even if the tumor does recur, it can often still be treated effectively.
Different types of surgery can be used to treat basal cell cancers.
Curettage and electrodesiccation: This is a common treatment for small basal cell carcinomas. It might need to be repeated to help make sure all of the cancer has been removed.
Excision: Excision (cutting the tumor out) is often used to remove basal cell carcinomas, along with a margin of normal skin.
Mohs surgery: Mohs surgery has the best cure rate for basal cell carcinoma. It’s especially useful in treating large tumors, tumors where the edges are not well-defined, tumors in certain locations (such as on or near the nose, eyes, ears, forehead, scalp, fingers, and genital area), and those that have come back after other treatments. However, it’s also usually more complex, time-consuming, and expensive than other methods.
Radiation therapy is often a good option for treating patients who might not be able to tolerate surgery and for treating tumors on the eyelids, nose, or ears – areas that can be hard to treat surgically. It’s also sometimes used after surgery if it’s not clear that all of the cancer has been removed.
Immune response modifiers, photodynamic therapy, or topical chemotherapy
These treatments are sometimes considered as options for treating very superficial tumors (tumors that have not extended too deeply under the skin surface). Close follow-up is needed because these treatments do not destroy any cancer cells that are deep under the surface.
Cryosurgery can be used for some small basal cell carcinomas but is not usually recommended for larger tumors or those on certain parts of the nose, ears, eyelids, scalp, or legs.
Cryosurgery can also be used to treat large tumors in one treatment session to relieve symptoms from the cancer. Side effects can include drainage of fluid from the site for 4 to 6 weeks and slow healing.
Targeted therapy for advanced basal cell cancers
In rare cases where basal cell cancer spreads to other parts of the body or can’t be cured with surgery or radiation therapy, the targeted drug vismodegib (ErivedgeTM) can often shrink or slow the growth of the cancer. This drug is taken daily as a pill.
Last Medical Review: 10/21/2013
Last Revised: 02/20/2014