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Treatment Options for Skin Cancer Besides Surgery

Dec 17, 2019

Surgery is often required to remove malignant tumors from the body. However, if you have basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or any pre-cancerous condition that hasn’t spread beyond the skin, you may be eligible for non-surgical treatment. Explore your options and talk to your dermatologist about which one may be right for you.


This treatment, also known as cryosurgery, involves freezing and killing pre-cancerous cells, including actinic keratosis (AK). Your dermatologist applies liquid nitrogen to the affected area, repeating the treatment multiple times in one visit to ensure thorough coverage.

Once the dead skin thaws, the area swells, blisters, and crusts over. The wound may take one to two months to fully heal, possibly draining fluid during this time. Cryotherapy leaves a scar, and the skin may have less pigment following treatment.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

PDT is effective against AKs. It’s a two-step treatment that begins by applying a special liquid or gel to the affected area. The medicine collects in the tumor cells over several hours or days, which makes the cells sensitive to certain wavelengths of light.

The second step, then, is to focus a special light source on the tumor and kill the pre-cancerous cells. For large treatment areas, it’s even possible to activate the drug by simply stepping out into the sunlight for a predetermined amount of time.

Topical Chemotherapy

This treatment is only effective for tumor cells located on or near the skin’s surface, so it’s most often used against AKs and some basal and squamous cell skin cancers.

Normally, chemotherapy is administered by mouth or intravenously. However, topical chemotherapy is anti-cancer medicine applied directly to your skin once or twice a day for several weeks. A topical application prevents the drug from spreading throughout your body. Therefore, it has fewer side effects than systemic forms of chemotherapy.

Immune Response Modifiers

Drugs that boost the immune system can help your body fight cancer more effectively. Immune response modifiers are available in cream form, which is applied to AKs and early basal cell cancers. You can also find them in an injectable form, which boosts the immune response against tumors not located directly on the skin.

Laser Surgery

It might be called “surgery” because it destroys targeted body tissues, but this treatment doesn’t involve scalpels or cutting into your skin. Instead, laser surgery uses beams of light to vaporize AKs and some types of basal and squamous cell carcinomas.

Chemical Peels

This approach is sometimes used to treat AKs. It involves applying a chemical to the skin cancer cells, which kills the tumor after several days.

At Arlington Dermatology, we offer several non-surgical treatments for skin cancer, including cryotherapy, photodynamic therapy, topical chemotherapy, and more. If any of these options interest you, please contact our dermatologist in Rolling Meadows, IL at (847) 725-0824 to learn more about which ones may fit your needs.