What are the treatment options for advanced non-melanoma skin cancer? Dr. Sunandana Chandra shares insight on how a treatment approach is determined, the types of non-melanoma skin cancer, and discusses factors considered when choosing therapy.
Dr. Sunandana Chandra is a medical oncologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about Dr. Chandra.
How is advanced non-melanoma skin cancer treated?
So, usually, the first thing that might occur is a biopsy to see what it is that we think that we’re dealing with. A biopsy is then reviewed by a pathologist or a dermatopathologist, and then those results are then relayed back to the doctor who did the biopsy.
Oftentimes, it’s a dermatologist, a primary care doctor etc. Once we have the exact diagnosis and the exact pathology, we can then talk about, okay, is this removable? Is this excisable? In that situation, a dermatologist can do it; a Mohs surgeon who is a sub-specialized dermatologist can do it. In certain instances, they may say this is a larger spot, it’s a spot, etcetera, so they then may involve our surgeons or our surgical oncologists. Now, the vast majority of non-melanoma skin cancers are treated by surgery alone. They’re just excised or removed, and then the person is followed closely.
However, there are certainly situations when a person’s non-melanoma skin cancer, meaning a Merkel cell carcinoma, a cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, or a basal cell carcinoma being the three most common non-melanoma skin cancers.
There are situations where those are too big to respect or to surgically remove. Potentially, it may cause too much disfigurement. Potentially a person or a patient may feel that they are just sick of surgery. They want no further surgery. In those instances, those patients are then often referred to medical oncologists. These are cancer doctors who treat the cancer with systemic or whole body cancer drugs and/or radiation oncologists who can use radiation beams to often treat the cancer.
Dr. Chandra, when you’re deciding on a treatment plan for a patient, what factors are taken into consideration?
So, usually, first and foremost, we have to get to know our patient and understand their own preferences, what their own goals of care are with respect to how they want to live their life, how aggressive or not they would like to be with respect to their cancer management, their functional status, which we technically call performance and status, their other illnesses or comorbidities that may kind of complicated cancer management.
For example, people with autoimmune diseases who are on steroids, or people who have uncontrolled diabetes, these are just two examples of a potential infinite list of a person’s comorbidities or illnesses that they may have that may complicate things. All of these are taken into consideration. And, I think at the end of the day, we as their doctor want to do what’s best for them and what makes the most sense to them and for them, but certainly, it takes a very detailed discussion with our patients, their loved ones, their family members, caregivers, as well as our multidisciplinary team members to kind of figure out what the next best steps are.
I think this is a time where if a person is diagnosed with a non-melanoma skin cancer, I want them to know that there are options out there, options that were not even available a decade ago, certainly, maybe even five years ago that have really revolutionized how we treat our patients with advanced non-melanoma skin cancers. And so, the sooner they reach out for help, I think the better the outcomes are. So, we are here to help those particular patients to the best of our ability.