How is skin cancer treated?

More than 750,000 skin cancers are diagnosed in Australia every year, costing our health system over $500 million annually - the highest cost of all cancers. Most skin cancers can be successfully treated if they're caught early but, if left undetected or untreated, can cause serious scarring, deformities and even death.

how is skin cancer treatedDespite skin cancers being relatively easy to treat when found early, some people put off seeing their doctor for an annual full-body skin check. This may be because they are nervous about the exam or because they are frightened of being diagnosed with skin cancer. Some people say they put off getting a skin check because, if a cancer is found, they don't want to be left with an unsightly scar after surgery. 

At National Skin Cancer Centres, we go above and beyond to ensure your skin health needs are met with expert diagnosis and treatment. We strive to deliver prompt, efficient and effective treatments that minimise scarring. Some treatments are completely non-invasive and require no surgery at all.

The treatment you receive will depend on many factors:

  • The type of cancer. There are many different types of skin cancer. The most common are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Some cancers are more dangerous than others and all must be treated with appropriate techniques. An aggressive cancer like melanoma, for example, will require a more substantial treatment.
  • The size. Some cancers can spread out across a larger area of skin, or may have penetrated deeper into underlying tissues.
  • The location. For example, a skin cancer on your arm will require different treatment to a cancer on your face, which is more sensitive.
  • Whether it has spread to other parts of your body. Sometimes, skin cancer can spread to other organs, requiring a combination of different treatment methods.

Some skin cancers are removed with surgery. This involves numbing the area with a local anaesthetic and excising the cancerous spot using a scalpel blade. The doctor will remove a margin of surrounding tissue as well, to ensure the entire skin cancer has been successfully excised. The wound is sealed with sutures and dressed.

However, skin cancer doesn't always require surgery. Your doctor will consider the most appropriate treatment for your circumstances. Non-surgical treatment options include:

  • Curettage. The doctor removes the skin cancer by scraping it with a sharp instrument and burning the tissue to eliminate cancer cell remnants. This is often used to treat superficial cancers confined to the top layer of skin.
  • Cryotherapy. The doctor freezes the skin cancer with liquid nitrogen, killing the tumour cells.
  • Topical treatments. This involves the application of creams that stimulate the immune system and promote your own body to destroy the cancer naturally.