You may have read countless articles online claiming that Indians are immune to skin cancer because of the color of their skin. For a long time, it was thought that melanin’s light-scattering and antioxidant properties helped in decreasing the incidence of skin cancer. However, studies have found that skin cancer is quite likely to affect the Indian population as well.
Skin cancer is one of the easily detectable and highly treatable cancers. It occurs when there is a mutation in normal skin cells, and they start dividing abnormally. Some of the common symptoms of skin cancer are persistent sores, scar-like lesions, the presence of bumps in the skin, red-colored nodules, a mole that is constantly changing its color, shape, size, and texture, and red patches that may itch or burn. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should consult a doctor. If the doctor suspects something abnormal, you will be asked to visit an oncology centre for appropriate treatment.
There are several treatment options available for skin cancer. Usually, a simple surgery is sufficient to remove the cancerous tissue. However, in some cases, the patients may require treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and photodynamic therapy.
Receiving the right treatment for skin cancer involves three steps:
- Identifying your cancer
- Choosing the right Specialist
- Narrowing the treatment options
Identifying Your Cancer
Not all skin cancers affect individuals in the same way, and not two skin cancers can be treated with the same treatment plan. Based on the skin cells that they affect, skin cancers are classified into 3 main types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Of the three, melanoma is the rare and most aggressive form of skin cancer, and basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, and it progresses at a slower rate.
A physical exam and biopsy can help doctors arrive at a conclusive diagnosis on the type of skin cancer.
Choosing the Right Specialist
The fight against cancer is half won when you choose the right specialist. The right specialist who specializes in the management of skin cancers helps in reducing the risk of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. They would also have vast experience in devising personalized treatment plans upon considering important factors like the stage of the disease, exact location and size, the overall health status of the patient, and their preferences.
At HCG Cancer Hospital, we have a team of the best skin cancer specialists who are skilled in managing early-stage and advanced-stage skin cancers through the best suitable treatment solutions.
Narrowing the Treatment Options
In this step, you will be exploring your treatment options and learning which treatment works best for you. In cancer treatment hospitals, usually, there will be a multidisciplinary team to study your medical information, analyze your diagnostic reports and come up with a treatment plan that will help you deal with your condition in the most effective way possible.
The key skin cancer treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Specifically for skin cancer, treatments like cryosurgery, electrosurgery, and photodynamic therapy are recommended, which can treat skin cancer with fewer treatment-related complications.
- Surgery: Surgery is the primary line of treatment for skin cancer. Surgery simply removes the cancerous tissue. In the early stages, surgery alone may be sufficient to treat skin cancer, and it can be performed as an outpatient procedure. Based on the type, stage, and grade of skin cancer, the following surgical procedures may be recommended for its management:
- Cryosurgery: This is a minimally invasive procedure that uses liquid nitrogen (-196°C) to destroy the cancer cells. This treatment only kills the cancer cells that are present on the surface of the skin. This treatment is often combined with other treatments for better outcomes.
- Electrosurgery (Curettage and Cautery): This surgery is often recommended for early-stage skin cancers. This procedure involves the removal of cancerous tissues, and the electric current is used to destroy the residual cancer cells that could be present on the edges.
- Mohs’ Surgery: During this surgical procedure, the abnormal skin tissue is removed layer by layer, and each layer is checked for the presence of cancer cells. This is done until the cancer cells are completely removed. This procedure benefits the patient by preserving the surrounding healthy tissues to a greater extent.
- Wide-excision Surgery: During wide excision surgery, the surgeon removes cancerous tissue along with a small portion of healthy tissue that surrounds it.
- Lymph Node Removal: If the skin cancer specialists suspect that the skin cancer has spread to nearby organs, the lymph nodes present in that region are removed and examined for the presence of cancer cells. This surgery is important in ensuring that cancer does not spread beyond.
- Reconstructive Surgery: In skin cancer patients who have lost a lot of skin to the disease, reconstructive surgery may be recommended. Skin reconstruction is either performed using a local flap or skin graft. During local flap reconstruction, nearby healthy skin tissue is stretched to cover the wound. Reconstruction using a skin graft involves excising a small portion of healthy skin from a different part of the body and using it to cover the wound caused by cancer surgery.
- Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy is another commonly recommended treatment for skin cancer. The radiation oncologist will carefully devise a treatment plan wherein high-energy radiation beams are used to kill the cancer cells. It may be used alone or in combination with other treatment modalities.
- Chemotherapy: Skin cancers that are in early stages or have not penetrated to the deeper layers are often treated with topical chemotherapy, i.e., the chemo drugs are applied to the precancerous or cancerous lesions to kill the cancer cells. If the disease is in advanced stages, systemic chemotherapy is recommended, where powerful chemo drugs are used to destroy cancer cells throughout the body.
- Photodynamic Therapy: Photodynamic therapy is another specialized treatment that is recommended for the management of skin cancer. This procedure treats skin cancer at the cellular level by combining light energy with a drug (photosensitizer). The photosensitizer is activated by a specific wavelength of light energy, usually from a laser. After light activation, the photosensitizer becomes toxic to the cancer cells and kills them.
Unlike before, we have multiple treatment options for skin cancer, today. Some treatments can be completed within a day, and patients can be back to being cancer-free in no time. However, for any cancer treatment to be successful, it has to be detected and diagnosed early. This happens only when you keep an eye on the changes in your skin and consult a specialist when you observe something abnormal.