Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) treatments

21 Mar

Below are the most common treatments available, plus a brief description, once a NMSC has been diagnosed (usually a basal cell carcinoma or a squamous cell carcinoma).

Surgical excision (standard) – the most common and preferred form of treatment. Good for nodular tumours with a sharply demarcated border. Has a high cure rate and is dependent on the closeness of tumour to the resection margin in regards to the pathology (ie. the closer the tumour is to the margin the more likely it is to recur). One let down is the bread loafing technique which results in only approximately 5% of the actual margins being visualised by the pathologist for assessment of complete excision.

Moh’s /  Moh’s Micrographic Surgery – form of treatment with the highest reported cure rate (~97-99%). This technique results in the entire peripheral margins and the deep margins being visualised and assessed for completeness of excision (this is why the cure rate is so high). One let down is the time-consuming nature of the technique and the specialised training that is involved.

Topical chemotherapy – the most common available topical chemotherapy agents include 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and 5% imiquimod. Generally speaking 5-FU works by inhibiting DNA replication therefore the growth of the tumour and imiquimod works by modifying the local tumour immune response of the patient. Advantages include the non-invasiveness topical therapy. Disadvantages are that, used alone, they can only be used on superficial tumours and not invasive tumours. Experimentation of their use in conjunction with other treatments (eg. curettage then topical treatment, or topical use to reduce tumour size before excision) have resulted in reports of higher cure rates.

Curettage +/- Electrodissection – put simply the tumour is physically scrapped away then the treated area is exposed to an electrical current which results in the softening of the skin and the procedure is repeated until the treating physician is satisfied excision is complete. The curettage portion technique can be applied alone without the electrodissection. This technique is usually reserved for site which are cosmetically unimportant (eg back). The cure rate is dependent on how aggressive the technique is applied (ie. the more the aggressive the higher the cure rate) and the growth type of the tumour being treated (ie. the more invasive the tumour the lower the cure rate).

Cryotherapy – one of the older treaments for NMSC which involves treatment of the tumour most commonly with liquid nitrogen. Cure rate can be high but there is reduced tumour margin control resulting in a higher recurrence rate.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) – fairly new technique which involves applying a topical photosensitizer to the target tumour and then exposure of the target area to light. This results in the production of aggressive chemicals which damage the cell causing death. Disadvantages include the ineffectiveness on invasive and thicker tumours due to lack of light penetration, and high cost. Advantages include the non-invasiveness of the technique.

Radiotherapy – usually reserved for older patients or where the surgical removal of the tumour is not a viable option. Has a reported cure rate of approximately 80-95%. Tumours recurring after radiotherapy are generally more aggressive and can become radiotherapy resistant.

I welcome any comments or other therapies you have encountered.

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