Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, types of nonmelanoma skin cancer, are the most common types of skin cancer. They have a cure rate of almost 95% if found and treated early. Treatments for these cancers range from a quick and easy tumor removal to complex treatment plans that include medications and more advanced cancer treatments. Skin cancer treatment plans are based on a variety of factors. Your doctor will determine the best treatment plan for you based on: What type of skin cancer you have How advanced the cancer is How aggressive the cancer is Where the cancer is on your body Your general health The focus of this article is the treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer. For information about treatment of melanoma skin cancer, go to Treatments for Melanoma. Skin Cancer Removal Doctors generally remove skin cancer with an outpatient procedure or surgery. Your doctor may also recommend a lymph node biopsy to check if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Most people are able to return to their normal activities within a day of skin cancer removal. Problems or complications of skin cancer removal include infection, bleeding, scarring, incomplete removal of the cancer, and return of the cancer. Find a dermatologist for skin cancer removal on the Healthgrades website. Removing abnormal cells and precancerous growths Your doctor may use one of the following methods to remove abnormal cells and growths called actinic keratoses. Skin cancer removal prevents abnormal (precancerous) cells and growths from becoming cancerous. Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy abnormal skin cells. Doctors also use cryosurgery to treat patients who cannot tolerate more invasive treatments. Dermabrasion removes the top layer of skin using friction. Sometimes doctors also recommend dermabrasion to remove sun-damaged skin to prevent the development of precancerous cells and cancer. Photodynamic therapy combines light-sensitive drugs with wavelengths of light. Your doctor injects the drug into your tumor and exposes it to the light. This produces a reaction that kills abnormal cells. It may also be used in some early-stage skin cancers. Removing small or early-stage skin cancer tumors Your doctor may use one of the following procedures to remove certain kinds of small tumors on the surface of the skin that have not spread to deeper layers: Electrodesiccation and curettage scrapes off a small tumor with a sharp spoon-like tool. The wound is sealed with electric current to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Laser surgery uses a laser to cut out a small tumor. Doctors sometimes use laser surgery to remove precancerous cells as well. Shave excision shaves a small tumor off the skin’s surface with a thin blade. Removing larger or high-risk skin cancer tumors Your doctor may use surgery to remove a tumor that has spread beyond the top layer of the skin. Surgery may also be used for smaller or early-stage tumors that have a high risk of spreading or returning after treatment. Mohs micrographic surgery removes the tumor layer by layer. Each layer of skin tissue is checked for cancer cells with a microscope. Your doctor takes away layers until no cancer cells are seen. This technique causes the least amount of scarring. It is a good choice for high-risk tumors and tumors on the face and ears because it minimizes the amount of tissue that is removed. Simple or wide excision cuts out a tumor, some tissue below it, and some surrounding healthy tissue. The amount of tissue removed depends on the size and depth of the tumor. Your doctor may also use this surgery to biopsy a tumor to diagnose skin cancer. Sutures may be used to close the incision. Other Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer Treatments Skin cancer removal may be the only treatment needed for some small skin cancer tumors with a low risk of coming back after treatment. More complex treatment plans are often needed if you have a high-risk tumor or one that has spread beyond the top layer of skin. These tumors are usually removed and treated with one or more of the following treatments. These treatments have a variety of side effects and possible complications, which can be serious. Talk to your doctor to be sure you understand all the benefits and risks of the following treatments: Biologic therapy, or immunotherapy, includes medications that boost your body’s immune system. This helps fight certain early-to-late-stage skin cancers. It can also decrease the chance that cancer returns after treatment. Biologic therapy may help reduce the side effects of other cancer treatments. Doctors often use it with other forms of treatment such as chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is medication that kills cancer cells, as well as some normal cells. Chemotherapy for skin cancer is often applied to the skin in a cream or lotion. You may need chemotherapy in the form of a pill or IV medication if skin cancer has spread beyond a very small area. Lymph node removal involves surgery to remove skin cancer that has spread to lymph nodes. This helps prevent the spread of skin cancer to other parts of the body. Lymph node removal is also used determine the stage of a tumor. Cancer that have advanced to the lymph nodes is managed more aggressively. Radiation therapy uses delivers highly-focused radiation to kill cancer cells. It also kills some normal cells. It is used to treat certain early-to-late-stage cancers. Doctors also treat some tumors that are hard to reach with surgery with radiation therapy. How to Talk to Your Doctor About Skin Cancer It’s important to talk to your doctor to understand your treatment options and how experienced your doctor is in treating your type of skin cancer. Here’s a few questions to get you started: What is the type and stage of my skin cancer? What type of treatment do you typically recommend for my type and stage of skin cancer? How many patients with my specific condition have you treated How many times have you performed the skin cancer removal procedure you recommend? What results have your patients had? Will I need other treatments? What are the risks and benefits of these treatments? What is my risk of a return of cancer and other complications and problems? Ask about your specific risk of problems and how your doctor plans to reduce or prevent them. Key Takeaways Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, forms of nonmelanoma skin cancer, are the most common types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma have a cure rate of almost 95% if detected and treated early. Methods to remove skin cancer range from simple procedures to surgical excision. Your doctor will choose a method based on the cancer’s type and location, and how advanced and aggressive it is. Skin cancer that has spread beyond the top layer of skin and high-risk cancers often require additional treatments, such as radiation therapy, lymph node removal, chemotherapy, and other medications.