Skin Cancer

Frequently Asked Questions

19. If I do need to seek treatment for skin cancer, what are my options?

Different types of treatment are available for patients with skin cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials.

Four types of standard treatment are used: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, and immunotherapy. Another therapy, biologic therapy, is one of many therapies currently being tested in clinical trials.

These standard cancer treatments work in different ways.

  • Surgery removes the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells or stop their growth.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Photodynamic therapy uses a drug and a type of laser light to kill cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy, which is newer, uses the patient's own immune system to fight the cancer.

In June of 2011, an important advance in treating melanoma was announced at an annual cancer meeting. A drug called ipilimumab was approved for treating the disease, and it works differently than traditional chemotherapy. It uses immunotherapy to help the immune system recognize and reject cancer cells. When it’s successful, immunotherapy can lead to complete reversal of even advanced disease. Some patients with stage IV metastatic disease who were treated in early immunotherapy trials after other therapies were unsuccessful are still in complete remission more than 20 years later.