Radiation Therapy for Skin Cancer
 
Understanding Your Treatment Options
Facts about Skin Cancer
About Skin Cancer
Treating Skin Cancer
External Beam Radiation Therapy
 
FACTS ABOUT SKIN CANCER
More than 1 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers will be diagnosed in the United States this year. These cancers can usually be cured.

Nearly 60,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed annually. Nearly 5,000 men and 2,900 women will die from the disease this year.

Skin cancer usually occurs in adults but can sometimes affect children and teenagers.
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ABOUT SKIN CANCER
The skin is the body's largest organ. Its job is to protect internal organs against damage, heat and infection. The skin is also the most exposed organ to sunlight and other forms of harmful ultraviolet rays. There are three major types of skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma: The most common form of skin cancer. These cancers begin in the outer layer of skin (epidermis).
Squamous cell carcinoma: The second most common type of skin cancer. These cancers also begin in the epidermis.
Melanoma: The most serious skin cancer, it begins in skin cells called melanocytes that produce skin color (melanin).
If caught and treated early, most skin cancers can be cured. Be sure to talk to your doctor about anything unusual on your skin.
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TREATING SKIN CANCER
The treatment you receive depends on several factors. Treatments are often combined and can include:
Radiation therapy where the cancer cells are killed by X-rays (photons) or electrons.
Surgery where the cancer cells are cut out and removed
Electrodessication where the cancer is dried up with an electric current and removed.
Cryosurgery where the cancer is frozen and removed.
Laser surgery where the cancer cells are killed by laser beams.
Chemotherapy where the cancer cells are attacked by a drug that is either taken internally or applied on the skin.
Photodynamic therapy where the cancer is covered with a drug that becomes active when exposed to light.
Biologic therapy where doctors help your immune system better fight the cancer.
There are several important goals to consider in selecting the best treatment for any skin cancer:
Cure
Function of area treated (e.g. eyelid)
Cosmetic appearance after treatment
Convenience of treatment
Expected side effects of treatment
Discuss with your doctor whether radiation treatments have any role in treating your skin cancer.
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EXTERNAL BEAM RADIATION THERAPY
External beam radiation therapy involves a series of daily radiation treatments that can be used to target skin cancer. Painless radiation treatments usually last less than 5 minutes but your appointment time is 15-30 minutes each day.

Usually skin cancer treatments are delivered daily, Monday to Friday, for three to seven weeks. In some circumstances, radiation treatments can be given in higher doses per treatment to short the overall treatment time. The number of treatments may also depend upon several other factors, including tumor size and location, other treatments you are receiving, and other medical conditions.

Electron beam radiation therapy can be delivered using a superficial type of radiation made of electrons, which deposit radiation doses close to the surface, sparing many tissues deeper below the skin. Often, a rubbery material is placed on the skin surface to ensure the dose is limited to the skin as much as possible while still giving the full dose to the area needing treatment.

Orthovoltage therapy is another kind of superficial radiation treatment that similar effectiveness in the treatment of skin cancers. Sometimes, using orthovoltage x-ray treatment may be preferable to electron-based external radiation treatments

Possible problems include skin irritation, redness or itching, and temporary or permanent hair loss in the treated skin. Serious side effects of skin cancer radiation treatment are rare. However, the likelihood of these symptoms depend upon of many factors that your doctor will discuss with you at the time of your visit.

During treatment, talk to your doctor about any discomfort you feel. He or she may be able to provide medications or other treatments that may help.
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