A new diagnosis of skin cancer brings immediate questions about treatment. How treatable is it? What are my options? The good news is that most types of cancer have effective treatment options and excellent survival rates if caught early.
Here’s a closer look at the main treatment options for skin cancer and how you can cope with them in your day-to-day life.
Small Tumor Excision/Removal
Small tumors and lesions are often removed in a minimally-invasive procedure using a scraping tool called a curette. During the removal, the remaining wound might be cauterized, treated with liquid nitrogen, and/or treated with low-dose radiation.
After the procedure, the doctor will likely direct you to apply an ointment that contains a chemotherapeutic agent called 5-fluorouracil or an immune response modifier called imiquimod. The ointment should be used for a period of weeks to ensure the wound closes in a way that prevents further cancer.
Large Tumor Surgical Removal
Sometimes, for larger tumors, a doctor will determine that a more extensive surgery is the best method of removal. This is particularly true of melanoma tumors, which have a high risk of spreading to organs and causing harm throughout the body.
During the surgery, the doctor removes the tumor as well as a safe margin of tissue surrounding it. This minimizes the risk of missing cancerous cells that surround the tumor. In some cases, the lymph nodes may be removed.
Depending on the extent of the surgery, you may need a hospital stay and cancer-limiting drugs for days or weeks afterward. At home, you may continue to take medications and apply treatments to your wounds.
Chemotherapy and Radiation
Although they are quite different treatments, chemotherapy and radiation are often combined in cancer treatment. Chemotherapy uses medications that are either injected into the body, spread on the skin, or taken orally. Radiation uses high-energy particles and waves to destroy cancer cells.
Common side effects of chemotherapy include temporary hair loss, anemia, bruising, nausea, loss of appetite, and overall fatigue. Radiation side effects tend to be more limited to the exact area treated, but can include skin reactions, headaches, sores, fatigue and nausea.
Coping with chemotherapy and radiation can be difficult, because the treatments sap you of energy. Every person experiences the side effects differently. Get plenty of rest and don’t try to accomplish too much each day. You’ll likely need the support of a partner or caregiver. Stay in frequent contact with your doctor.
In some cases, options like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are determined not to be the best approaches. Perhaps the immune system is already too compromised, or it is a type of metastatic (spreading) cancer that doesn’t respond to those treatments. Or maybe you’ve already tried surgery or chemotherapy and the cancer continues to resist these methods.
In these cases, your doctor may prescribe an oral cancer treatment. Sonidegib (Odomzo) or Vismodegib (Everidge) are two common examples. Follow the prescription directions exactly and never stop taking cancer medication without consulting your doctor - even if you don’t think it’s working. Oral treatments take time to take effect.
A relatively new option in cancer treatment is immunotherapy, which attempts to immunize a patient’s body against its own cancer. Groundbreaking methods of immunotherapy include vaccines, drugs such as interferon, and genetic manipulation of tumors.
Common side effects of immunotherapy are all over the board, but may include skin reactions, sensitivity to sunlight, inflammation, and flu-like symptoms such as dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. During treatment, get plenty of rest and give yourself extra time to accomplish routine daily activities.
Customized Cancer Treatment
For all of the skin cancer treatments above, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to cancer treatment. Every approach is a customized approach. Stay consistent with follow-up care appointments and discuss any concerns with your doctor.
If you or a loved one needs more information about coping with skin cancer treatment, connect with the experts at Johnson Memorial Health.