If you’ve been diagnosed with basal or squamous cell skin cancer, your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you. It’s important that you think carefully about your choices. You will want to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.
Which treatments are used for basal and squamous cell skin cancers?
Based on the type and stage of the cancer and other factors, your treatment options may include:
Different approaches might be used to treat basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, actinic keratosis, and Bowen disease. Fortunately, most of these cancers and pre-cancers can be cured with fairly minor surgery or other types of local treatments.
(Other skin cancers, such as melanoma, lymphoma of the skin, Merkel cell carcinoma, Kaposi sarcoma, and other sarcomas are treated differently and are covered elsewhere.)
Which doctors treat basal and squamous cell skin cancers?
You might have different types of doctors on your treatment team. Most basal and squamous cell cancers (as well as pre-cancers) are treated by dermatologists – doctors who specialize in treating skin diseases. If the cancer is more advanced, you may be treated by another type of doctor, such as:
- A surgical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with surgery
- A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with chemotherapy or other medicines
- A radiation oncologist: A doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy
You might have other health specialists on your treatment team as well, including physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, and other health professionals. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.
Making treatment decisions
It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. Some important things to consider include:
- The type and location of your skin cancer
- The likelihood that treatment will cure your cancer (or help in some other way)
- Your age and overall health
- Possible side effects of treatment, such as scars or changes in your appearance, and your feelings about them
You might feel that you need to make a decision quickly, but it’s important to give yourself time to absorb the information you have just learned. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. (See What Should You Ask Your Health Care Professional About Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers?)
Getting a second opinion
Before treatment, you might want to consider getting a second opinion, especially if you’re unsure about which option might be best for you. This can give you more information and help you feel more certain about the treatment plan you choose. If you aren’t sure where to go for a second opinion, ask your doctor for help.
Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. Sometimes they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see Clinical Trials to learn more.
Considering complementary and alternative methods
You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.
Help getting through cancer treatment
Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Clinic- or hospital-based support services can be an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, or spiritual help.
The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call the National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of their trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.