Basal Squamous Cell Skin Cancer Treatment

There are different types of treatment for patients with non-melanoma skin cancer, depending on the stage of the cancer and the person’s overall health. At Siteman, each patient is treated to give the best outcome for their specific cancer, including standard therapies and novel therapies only available in clinical trials. That’s why careful diagnosis is so important. The standard skin cancer treatments for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy and biologic therapy. Cancer clinical trials are testing many other approaches, some of which are becoming standard of care.

Surgery and Treatment Options

Electrodesiccation and curettage

The tumor is cut from the skin with a curette (a sharp, spoon-shaped tool). A needle-shaped electrode is then used to treat the area with an electric current that stops the bleeding and destroys skin cancer cells that remain around the edge of the wound.

Simple excision

The tumor is cut from the skin along with some of the normal skin around it.

Mohs micrographic surgery

Used mostly for tumors on the face, Mohs surgery involves cutting the tumor from the skin in thin layers. During surgery, the edges of the tumor and each layer of tumor removed are viewed through a microscope to check for cancer cells. Layers continue to be removed until no more cancer cells are seen. This type of surgery removes as little normal tissue as possible.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy also is a common skin cancer treatment option for non-melanoma skin cancer, especially for tumors that are large or are located on areas of the body that are difficult to treat. It also may be the best option for patients who have other medical complications in addition to their skin cancer. With this procedure, high-energy particles are delivered to the affected area over several treatment sessions to destroy the cancerous tissue.

Topical Chemotherapy

Topical chemotherapy for non-melanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis is usually applied to the skin in a cream or lotion. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the condition being treated. Retinoids (drugs related to vitamin A) are sometimes used to treat squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.

Photodynamic therapy

This cancer treatment uses a drug and a certain type of laser light to kill cancer cells. A drug that is not active until it is exposed to light is injected into a vein. The drug collects more in cancer cells than in normal cells. For skin cancer, laser light is shined onto the skin and the drug becomes active and kills the cancer cells. Photodynamic therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue.


Also called biologic therapy, these drugs use the patients’ immune systems to fight the cancer. Topical imiquimod therapy (a cream applied to the skin) may be used to treat some small basal cell carcinomas.