17.1 PTC Cancer Life Phases: Treatment of Skin Cancer
After the diagnosis
Ok, you understand the higher risk for cancer that an organ transplant recipient has, you know what to LOOK for by way of symptoms and testing especially for the type of organ transplant you received, so once DIAGNOSED, what TREATMENT options by cancer type are available?
After a cancer diagnosis — whether it's your own or that of a loved one — the right information can be one of your most powerful weapons. Here's what you need to know about cancer treatment and management.
Doctors will help figure out with you what the best treatment is for you. For each type of cancer, there are lots of different ways that it might be treated, depending on things about you and things about your cancer like how far along it is. It can be overwhelming to decide which treatment to go with, if you have options. Some things to consider according to the American Cancer Society are your age and how long you expect to live, other health conditions you have and how that matters for risk or how well the treatment will work, the stage of your cancer, if surgery will remove the cancer, the chances that the treatment will cure cancer or if it will help with symptoms, and your feelings about the side effects of that treatment. Some people have also said that even though the following things don’t actually help to treat their cancer, they might help cope with the experience: art therapy, physical activity when possible, meditation, music therapy, acupuncture and massage.
Cancer in the simplest terms is the abnormal growth of cells somewhere in the body. Each year, more than a million people receive a cancer diagnosis, and the most common types of cancer include skin cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer. In addition to the three major types of cancer treatment — surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy — researchers are working to find new and more effective ways of fighting cancer. Some cancers can't be prevented, but other types can be avoided by living a healthy lifestyle.
While surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are still the first-line treatments for most cancers, there are also new and emerging approaches. When you are learning about cancer and evaluating what cancer treatment to undergo, it's important to understand your options and the benefits and risks that each offers. Generally, cancer patients receive one of three types of cancer treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. It's also possible to receive a combination of any of those three types, in hopes of increasing the odds of getting rid of the cancer cells.
Different skin cancer treatment options and their pros/consMayo Clinic says that your treatment options for skin cancer or precancerous skin lesions depend on size, type, depth and location on your skin. Small skin cancers may only need a biopsy because it removes the whole thing. Otherwise, there are lots of other ways that your doctor might treat your skin cancer:
- Freezing: Your doctor might get rid of precancerous skin lesions, or some early skin cancers by freezing them off with liquid nitrogen. This works by freezing your skin and then the dead frozen skin falls off when it thaws out.
- Excisional surgery: To excise something means to cut it out. So with this treatment, your doctor cuts out the cancer skin and some parts of the healthy skin around it just to make sure. For some skin cancers, they may take extra normal skin because that is recommended.
- Mohs surgery: Doctors use this treatment for bigger, hard to treat or recurring skin cancers. This treatment is used in places where you need to conserve as much skin as possible, like on your nose for example. For this treatment, your doctor removes the skin growth one layer at a time and using a microscope after each layer to see if they got it all.
- Curettage and Electrodesiccation or Cryotherapy: Doctors use these quick treatments usually on Basal Cell Cancers or on thin Squamous Cell Cancers. After they take off a growth, your doctor will use a circular blade called a curet (which gives the name Curettage) to scrape away layers of the cancer cells. The electric needle that your doctor uses then destroys any cancer cells that are left (this gives the name electrodesiccation). Sometimes this is called cryotherapy when your doctor can use liquid nitrogen to freeze the base and edges of the spot.
- Radiation therapy: This is when doctors use high-powered energy beams like x-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation could happen two different ways. One way is where your doctor gives you radiation using a machine outside of your body. It takes about 15 minutes each session and people usually have sessions 5 times a week for about 3-9 weeks. This kind doesn’t usually hurt. The other kind of radiation is inside of your body and they put temporary and/or permanent radioactive things in the tumor site. You might have to stay in the hospital briefly for a few of these treatments, and they might give you anesthesia (the thing that makes you go to sleep for surgery). Radiation treatment might make you feel tired, have sensitive skin where the radiation happens, and like any type of cancer treatment, be stressful.
- Chemotherapy: This is when doctors give you drugs that destroy cells that are growing out of control like cancer cells. The drugs can be given through your veins or taken as a pill, depending on what kind they give you. For skin cancer that is only in the top layer of your skin, your doctor might give you a cream or lotion that has cancer-killing chemicals in it that you put on your skin. Treatment involving drug injections into your veins or taking a pill is for when the skin cancer has spread to other parts of your body. The pros of chemo are that it can kill your cancer, or slow it down which can help you live longer and with fewer symptoms. The cons of chemo are mainly the side effects like feeling very tired/weak, bleeding and bruising, a higher risk of getting an infection, and the fact that you have to go to the hospital often. Because everyone is different, for some people chemo doesn’t work.
- Photodynamic therapy: This is when your doctor destroys skin cancer cells using a combination of drugs that make you skin cells sensitive to light and then uses laser lights to kill the cancer cells.
- Melanoma: According to the National Cancer Institute, the 5-year survival rate for Melanoma is about 92%. Some research in the United Kingdom has found that 87% of people survive melanoma skin cancer for more than 10 years! Survival rates have been improving a lot in the last 40 years meaning more and more people are surviving skin cancer. People with Stage 4 Melanoma, where it has spread to other areas of their body are at the highest risk of dying. One study found that 47% of people with Stage 4 Melanoma died within a year of having it.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): Most of these skin cancers are found and removed early if you do regular screenings. Some research has said that up to 97% of these skin cancers can be cured if they are removed! Only about 5-10% of SCCs are high risk and likely to spread. People with this kind are more likely to die from SCC. One study found that 70% of people with this kind, called distant metastatic SCC, died from it. Having any one SCC means you are more likely to have another one so regular follow-ups are really important.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): Because this is rare, researchers don’t have lots of information about prognosis. Like any other cancer, how much it spreads matters a lot for survival. Average survival time is 4.5 years, but this includes people in any stage of the disease. Cancer in Stage 1 is almost always more survivable than cancer in other stages. If the cancer has spread to other areas, one study found that average survival time was 2 years.
Planning and Preparing
Facing cancer is a difficult experience. Knowing what to expect and understanding how to navigate this journey can help make this stressful time easier. There are actions you can take at every step of the journey that may help you feel more in control of your health. Use these treatment tips offered by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), for before, during and after cancer treatment below.