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Skin Cancer: Treatment, Procedure, Cost and Side Effects

Last Updated: Oct 18, 2021

What is the treatment?

A variety of reasons can cause malignant cells to develop in the tissues of the skin. This condition is called skin cancer. Although a type of cancer, skin cancer is quite curable if detected early. So, if you find an unusual spot or lump on your skin or a part of your skin that shows signs of discolouration or changes in size or shape in any way, you must not delay to consult a doctor. The doctor will remove a part of the affected skin and send it to a laboratory for a biopsy. A biopsy will be able to confirm the presence of malignant cells in the skin. It takes almost a week for the results of a biopsy to come in.

The doctor prescribes a particular course of treatment depending on the type of cancer, the stage it has reach and also its location. The three most common types of skin cancer are BCC, SCC and melanoma. SCC or Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the types of cancer that occurs due to the formation of malignant cells in the epidermis of the skin. BCC or basal cell carcinoma develops in the basal cells that surround the squamous cells of the epidermis. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. The human skin has cells called melanocytes that produce the skin-colouring pigment melanin. When these melanocytes turn cancerous, the condition is called melanoma or malignant melanoma.

While deciding upon the best treatment option, the doctor takes into account the patient's age and general health as well. The most effective forms of treatment are surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, freezing and scraping.

What are the 4 types of Skin Cancer?

Skin Cancer which are the most commonly occurring type of cancer, basically are of four types as follows:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma: It constitutes about 80% of Skin Cancer cases and mainly affects the head and neck. It usually doesn’t spread to other parts of the body.
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma: Constituting about 20% of the Skin Cancer cases, it most commonly develops on the lips, and a smaller no. of cases spread to other body parts.
  3. Merkel cell cancer: It is a rare form of cancer. The development sites are mainly head and neck regions and it spreads to other parts of the body in more cases.
  4. Melanoma: It rarely occurs, the most critical and fatal type of cancer. Affecting the melanocytes, it invades the other body organs at a faster rate.

What do the early stages of Skin Cancer look like?

The early stages of Skin Cancer appear as some kind of changes in the skin of the affected individual. These changes include new growths and lesions which are precancerous in nature. They are not cancer cells initially but get transformed into the same over a period of time. The early warning signs should not be ignored and need to be treated as early as possible.

How is the treatment done?

The most effective treatment for skin cancer is surgery. Now there are different types of surgery that can be performed depending on the type and stage of cancer. If the skin has developed a small cancerous part, that part of the skin can be easily removed by performing excisional surgery. If the affected portion of the skin is bigger in size, some of the nearbuy skin may have to be removed as well and the patient may need skin grafting to cover the area. Moh's Micrographic surgery is another technique in which the affected skin is removed a tissue at a time and examined under the microsope. The process is continued till no cancer cell is left in the skin. If the cancer is very small, instead of removing it, the doctor freezes and kills the cancerous cells by spraying or injecting them with liquid nitrogen. This process is called cyrotherapy. Another surgical process is lymphadenectomy where the lymph nodes nearby the cancer cells are removed to prevent spreading the cancerous cells to those lymph nodes. Curettage and electrocautery is another surgical technique where the cancerous cells are scrapped off and either heat or electricity is used to prevent any bleeding.

There are superficial skin cancers like BCC that don't require surgery and can be treated by laser therapy. Laser therapy involves shining a very intense beam of light on the cancerous growth to destroy it. There is also radiotherapy in which X-rays are used to destroy the cancerous cells. Radiotherapy is also used for large cancers that are are formed too deep inside the skin or for cancers that are formed at areas where surgery might be hazardous. Photodynamic Therapy or PDT is a relatively new form of treatment that has proved to be somewhat effective in skin cancer treatment. In PDT, cancer cells are destroyed using a light-sensitive drug and a beam of visible light. Topical medications, immunotherapy and chemotherapy, though not very common for skin cancer treatment, can also be effective depending on a number of factors.

Can Skin Cancer go away by itself?

There is a possibility that Skin Cancer can go into a state of regression spontaneously, in the absence of treatment. This can be made happen by the immune system of the body which directly attacks the disease-causing antigens and helps the body to get rid of this form of cancer. . However, in some cases the healing starts this way once the infection has reached other body organs such as lungs, liver, bones, and brain.


Who is eligible for the treatment? (When is the treatment done?)

Depending on general health condition and age, anyone suffering from skin cancer is eligible to receive treatmen for the same.

Who is not eligible for the treatment?

Doctors try to avoid radiation therapy for treating young people with skin cancer as radiotherapy sometimes ends up increasing chances of cancer in other parts of the body in the future.

Are there any side effects?

The treatment for skin cancer has a few possible side effects. Radiotherapy is a very common form of treatment for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Radiotherapy causes irritation in and around the area of the skin being treated, skin discolouration and hair-loss in that particular area. Radiation also causes some damage to the salivary glands and teeth when it used to treat cancer formed around these structures. Chemotherapy causes acne, discolouration, blistering, peeling and hepersensitivity to the sun. Chemotherapy also causes the nails to become brittle or cracked.

Does Skin Cancer kill you?

Skin Cancers are the most commonly occurring cancer in human beings. Initiating some kind of changes in the skin, including new growths and lesions which are precancerous, can get transformed into cancer if left untreated. The cancerous form is curable in the majority of the cases if there is on-time treatment while a smaller portion of the cases is fatal.

How long can Skin Cancer go untreated?

Skin Cancer needs to be diagnosed first after the appearance of the symptoms. The next step is the treatment which is necessary for the cure of the disease. In case the cancer is left untreated, the maximum duration for survival is five years. As the prognosis is better in women than men, the survival rate for the same duration in women is 94% while it is 89% in men.

Are Skin Cancers itchy?

Redness or rashes are the common conditions that may occur as signs and symptoms of Skin Cancer. They can develop in any part of the body and may result in the itching of that specific body part. Itching may even lead to bleeding in the affected area. The important point is to differentiate the itching due to Skin Cancer from the itching developed due to irritation.

What are the post-treatment guidelines?

Patients who have undergone treatment for skin cancer are usually advised to avoid direct contact with sunlight for long periods of time. Patients are also advised to use creams providing UV protection while going out in the sunlight. Patients must follow up with their doctors to help detect the cancer in the earliest possible stage if it does come back.

How long does it take to recover?

The length of the recovery period really depends on the type of treatment that the patient went through. However, whether it was surgery or otherwise, it should not take a patient more than a week to a few months to recover completely.

What is the price of the treatment in India?

The cost of the treatment depends on the stage of the disease and the particular course of treatment followed. However, it is not a very cheap disease to have. The treatment for skin cancer can cost anywhere between Rs.10,000-Rs.2,50,000 depending on a lot of factors.

Are the results of the treatment permanent?

Skin cancer is almost curable if it can be detected at a very early stage. 98% people survive for 5 years and more if their cancer gets diagnosed at an early stage. But, the survival rate goes down to 62% if the cancer spreads through the body in its later stages. And even if the cancer gets cured, there is no guarantee that it won't come back a few years down the line.

What are the alternatives to the treatment?

The conventional methods for treating skin cancer also bring a lot of side effects to the table. To avoid those, there are a few natural remedies for treating the disease. Black raspberry seed oil, eggplant extract, myrrh oil, and frankincense oil are known to have anti-cancer properties and can be used to treat skin cancer. However, there is no proof of their effectiveness.

Summary: Skin Cancers are the most commonly occurring cancer in human beings. It can get transformed into cancer if left untreated. The cancerous form is curable in the majority of the cases if there is on-time treatment while a smaller portion of the cases is fatal. Skin Cancer needs to be diagnosed first after the appearance of the symptoms. The next step is the treatment which is necessary for the cure of the disease.

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Written ByDr. Sanjaya MishraMD - OncologyOncology
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