At our clinic in Brisbane, the goal is to help our patient’s fight back against ageing and the damaging effects of the sun. We have a wide range of treatments and services that address a variety of skin conditions, including skin cancer.
We created our website as an online resource for people who need help sorting out all the confusing information out there about skin care and cosmetic medicine. We have articles about emerging as well as traditional methods for keeping skin healthy, radiant, and youthful.
In this article, our dermatology experts talk about non-surgical treatments for skin cancer. They’ll share medical knowledge gleaned from research and clinical studies, professional perspectives they’ve gained during their careers as aestheticians, as well as the real-life experiences they’ve had at Brisbane Skin.
Brisbane Skin Looks at 3 Common Skin Cancers in Australia
In Australia, where sun-worshipping is a national pastime, the number of skin cancers treated each year is greater than the total number of all other cancers combined. There are three common types of skin cancer.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma – The majority (about 80%) of skin cancers develop in the lower epidermis, in what are known as basal cells. It is seen primarily on the head and neck. Basal cell carcinoma is primarily the result of sun exposure, but may also develop in people who had radiation therapy in their youth. It is a slow growing cancer that rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma/Solar Keratoses – The minority (about 20%) of skin cancers develop in the flat, scale-like cells of the epidermis called squamous cells. It is seen primarily on the skin that lines the mouth, nose, and lips. This type of skin cancer is also caused by sun exposure, but it can appear anywhere on the body that has been damaged by chemicals, exposed to x-rays, or burned. This cancer is more likely to spread than basal cell carcinoma, but rarely spreads far.
These two types of skin cancer are grouped together under the umbrella term “non-melanoma cancers” to distinguish them from melanoma, a type of cancer that develops in a unique way and must be treated differently because it is more likely to spread.
- Melanoma – This is the most serious type of skin cancer. Cells known as melanocytes are found where the dermis and the epidermis meet. These cells produce melanin, the pigment that contributes to skin colour.
Surgery is the most common treatment for the removal of melanoma. For less invasive, non-melanoma cancers, however, effective non-surgical approaches can provide a superior solution. They enable the dermatologists at Brisbane Skin to remove cancer lesions with less risk, less discomfort, and a faster recovery.
Top 4 Traditional Non-Surgical Treatments for Skin Cancer
Happily, the majority of skin cancers seen in Australia are relatively benign and can be addressed with non-surgical treatments. In addition to reduced risk factors, non-surgical solutions offer a better cosmetic result. It should be noted, however, that the non-surgical treatment options below are generally contra-indicated for treatment of recurrent skin cancers as they are generally not as effective as surgical excision and have lower cure rates.
- Radiotherapy – Once the non-surgical solution of choice, this treatment for skin cancer was commonly used until the late 1960’s. Since then, however, it has been replaced with newer, more effective treatments. Radiotherapy still has a place in treating lesions and can be used as an adjunctive therapy in recurrent cases of skin cancer.
- Cryotherapy with Liquid Nitrogen – This non-surgical solution for skin cancer is the most commonly recommended therapy for solar keratoses. It is very effective on the trunk and limbs and face. The treatment freezes the lesion, which produces a weeping wound that eventually dries and falls off. Healing takes anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks.
- Fluorouracil Cream – A topical treatment that has been in use for over 30 years, Flourouracil cream at 5% strength is especially effective for multiple solar keratoses on the scalp. A month of twice daily treatments produces excellent results; however it can trigger an inflammatory reaction. Typically, the inflammation is soothed with cold compresses and steroid creams.
- Imiquimod Cream – Initially developed as a treatment for external genital warts, over the last 15 years this topical ointment has proven to be an effective treatment for solar keratoses and basal cell carcinomas. It is considered 80% effective, achieving success close to what is possible with surgical excision, but without the risks and scars of surgery.
Brisbane Skin Explains Photodynamic Therapy for Skin Cancers
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is emerging as a leading solution for superficial skin cancers and sunspots, including solar keratoses. When compared with other surgical and non-surgical approaches, it is valued for its minimally invasive technique, minimal scarring, and quick recovery. Our dermatologists also use PDT to rejuvenate UV-damaged skin for cosmetic enhancement because there is:
- High rate of effectiveness and cure
- Less potential for scarring
- Less down time and faster recovery than with surgery and other treatment options
Photodynamic Therapy is an outpatient treatment that we perform at Brisbane Skin. Here’s what happens during the two-part treatment:
- ALA, a photosensitising chemical in cream form, is applied to the affected area and the surrounding skin in what is known as a “field treatment.” This chemical agent is activated by a specific light wavelength and intensity. After application, you will need to wait between ninety minutes and two hours for it to be completely absorbed.
- When the cream has been fully absorbed, you will be given protective goggles and then undergo a light treatment for eight minutes. Once it is exposed to the light, the ALA “wakes up” and begins destroying damaged skin and cancerous cells without doing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
Photodynamic Therapy is effective on a wide range of areas on the body, including the face, hands, scalp, and chest. Beyond its value for excising skin cancers, evidence is building that PDT can reduce hyperpigmentation, treat visible capillaries, and improve skin texture.
What to Expect after Photodynamic Therapy
Generally speaking, patients at Brisbane Skin find PDT treatments easy to tolerate. Many do not require an anaesthetic of any kind, even though it is common to experience a slight burning or stinging sensation during the treatment.
During treatment, a spray of cooling nitrogen can decrease sensation or, if necessary, an anaesthetic cream can be used to alleviate any discomfort. For people with elevated pain sensitivity, taking an analgesic an hour or so before the treatment can serve to calm fears by providing a maximum level of comfort.
When your PDT treatment is complete, you might feel sunburned or even be a little swollen. An over-the-counter painkiller can help with the discomfort. The discomfort should diminish within a day or two, depending on the severity of your cancer and the extent of the treatment itself. Your skin will be red and peeling for about a week.
Unlike other non-surgical treatments for skin cancer, Photodynamic Therapy requires an investment of time. From start to finish, you will likely be at our offices for up to four hours. Our patients generally require six to seven days of downtime to recover from a full-face treatment. People who are having smaller areas treated can be good to go within four days.
It’s Beautiful to be Skin-Cancer-Free
The doctors at Brisbane Skin know that a cancer diagnosis can be difficult to hear. Adding to the challenge is the fear that any treatment you receive can cause scars or disfigurement.
Please stop worrying!
The dermatologists at Brisbane Skin never lose sight of the importance of aesthetic results when they are treating skin cancers. Your doctor is uniquely qualified to guide you through your non-surgical skin cancer treatment and help you achieve optimal results. You’ll look beautiful and feel wonderful knowing that you’ve kicked skin cancer to the pavement.
You can reach our clinic by phone during business hours on 07 3160 3330. If you prefer, you can use the contact form on this page to learn more about non-surgical skin cancer treatments at Brisbane Skin.