a radiation device blasts a cancerous mole

A Less Invasive Treatment for Skin Cancer....Is It Right For You?

Treatment for basal cell and squamous cell cancers can often include excising, or cutting out, the cancerous area. This sometimes leaves a patient with an area that may be heavily scarred or disfigured. I’ve been fortunate with my skin cancer removals in that even though scarring might look significant soon after surgery, the scars have for the most part faded.

An alternative

I know this may not always be the case, though, which is why when I saw an article on an alternative, less invasive treatment for basal cell and squamous cell (non-melanoma) carcinomas I wondered if I should ask my dermatologist about it.

The treatment is superficial radiation therapy (SRT), in which a precise dose of radiation is targeted directly at the cancerous area. The radiation penetrates just below the skin’s surface to destroy malignant skin cells, while preserving healthy tissue. During the treatment, the surrounding tissue is covered for protection.

Does it work

The cure rate for SRT is in the 95-98% range, which is comparable to Mohs surgery. With Mohs, numerous procedures may need to be done during the surgery as tissue is removed layer by layer until no cancer remains, and if the surgery is extensive it can be deforming, a skin graft may be required, and plastic reconstructive surgery may also be required. With SRT, there is reportedly no anesthesia needed, no cutting or surgical excision, no bleeding, no stitches, no pain, and no need for reconstructive surgery after treatment. There is also no downtime post-treatment.1 

Another advantage of SRT over surgery is that it’s a good option for the elderly, for people who can’t tolerate anesthesia, aren’t healthy enough to undergo an operation, are on blood thinners, have compromised immune systems, or who don’t heal well.

It's not perfect

A downside of SRT, though, is that multiple appointments may be necessary to treat an area. A visit may last only 15-20 minutes but a patient may need to visit the doctor 1-20 times for treatments, depending on the area of the body, the size of the area, and the depth of the area. Multiple visits can be made in a week, and multiple areas can be treated during a visit. With SRT, there may be some tenderness, soreness, or itching in the area that is being treated, especially if more than a few treatments are needed.

I was surprised to learn that SRT isn’t a new treatment, however. It was utilized more frequently during the 1970’s but due to a lack of equipment being produced, SRT waned. Within the last five years, new equipment has been developed and distributed and SRT is making a resurgence.

Your doctor might have their preferences

While SRT sounds like a good treatment for basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, some doctors continue to prefer doing Mohs surgery as there are still unknowns about whether radiation treatment increases the odds of recurring skin cancer. Also, there aren’t yet years of research for patients post-SRT to learn its long-term effectiveness.

Even so, some people choose SRT over Mohs because it is a non-surgical treatment. I read of a patient whose doctor told her he recommended Mohs for a cancerous area on her face but indicated she would have scarring and her lip would be misshapen because of the area where the skin cancer was located. She opted for a second opinion with a doctor who discussed SRT with her and ended up having SRT instead of Mohs. Her treatment was twice a week for eight weeks. The patient reported a bit of redness in the area over the weeks, which was easily concealed with makeup, but she was happy with her decision to have SRT.

Final superficial radiation therapy thoughts

It sounds like it may be worthwhile to discuss this treatment with my dermatologist to get her opinion on it. I’m encouraged that additional, alternative treatments for skin cancer are being offered and am hopeful that the SRT option will convince more people to seek treatment for their skin cancers.

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