Although melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, it’s much less common than non-melanoma counterparts. In fact, basal and squamous cell carcinomas make up 96% of all skin cancer diagnoses.
Fortunately, non-melanoma skin cancers, like basal and squamous cell, are not as likely to spread and have a high cure rate with early detection and treatment.
Surgery is often recommended as the first line of defense against these tumors, but superficial radiation therapy may be used in conjunction or on its own when surgery is not a viable option.
Before undergoing radiation for non-melanoma skin cancer, it’s important that patients understand how the treatment works, its indications for use, benefits, and possible side effects.
What is Superficial Radiation Therapy for Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer?
Radiation therapy destroys cancerous cells and prevents the spread of malignancy by focusing radiation waves directly at the tumor. Because this procedure only penetrates skin-deep, it works to eradicate cancer, while minimizing effects on healthy tissue.
How Does it Work?
The treatment is administered using a device and is quick and painless. However, radiation is usually performed as a series of sessions spaced out over several weeks.
Why Do Patients With Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Undergo Radiation?
Even after surgery, it’s possible for some cancerous cells to remain. In these cases, radiation therapy is quite effective in destroying the cancer that’s left without anesthesia or incisions.
Dermatologists may also recommend radiation as a safer alternative to surgery if a patient is elderly and/or has certain medical issues.
Additionally, radiation may be a more appropriate choice for larger tumors or those that are found on hard-to-treat areas like the eyelids, nose, and lips, especially if individuals are concerned about scarring.
Nevertheless, this therapy is usually avoided in patients that have scleroderma or lupus, as it may exacerbate these conditions.
What Are the Risks of Superficial Radiation Therapy?
Because radiation for non-melanoma skin cancer is a localized procedure, side effects are often limited to the treatment area. That being said, patients may experience discoloration – darkening or lightening of skin, redness, irritation, blistering, peeling, and hair loss.