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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Treatment

Treatments for basal cell cancer include:

  • Curettage and electrodessication. A sharp instrument scrapes away visible cancer. Then an electric probe kills remaining microscopic cancer cells.

  • Excision. Visible cancer and some healthy tissue is cut away, then the skin is stitched closed.

  • Cryosurgery. Cancerous cells are frozen with liquid nitrogen.

  • Laser therapy. A laser beam is used to destroy the cancer.

  • Radiation. High energy rays are used to destroy the cancer.

  • Moh's micrographic surgery. The tumor is shaved away in thin layers. Each layer is checked under a microscope to see if it contains cancerous cells. This procedure preserves as much healthy skin as possible while making sure that all of the cancer is removed.

Less common or experimental therapies include:

  • Topical fluorouracil, an anticancer drug applied directly to the skin

  • Topical imiquimod cream (Aldara) for very superficial basal cell skin cancers

  • Chemotherapy injected directly into the tumor

  • Photodynamic therapy, which kills cancer with chemicals and light

Determining the right treatment depends on many factors, including:

  • The size and location of the cancer

  • Whether it has returned after previous treatment

  • Age

  • A patient's general health.

Once treatment is finished and the cancer is gone, the doctor will schedule regular follow up skin examinations. Once you have been diagnosed with basal cell cancer, you are at higher risk to develop another basal cell cancer.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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