Treatment overview for skin cancer

Most people who have a basal cell carcinomas (BCC) or a squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) are cured with treatment. There are different types of treatment that will depend on certain factors.

About treatment for skin cancer

Most people with basal cell carcinomas (BCC) or a squamous cell carcinomas of the skin (SCC) are cured with treatment.

The treatment you have depends on:

  • the type of skin cancer
  • its size
  • where it is on your body
  • the biopsy results
  • if you have had skin cancer before
  • your general health.

Multidisciplinary team for skin cancer

A team of specialists meet to talk to you about the best possible treatment for you. This is called the multidisciplinary team (MDT). The MDT for skin cancer may will include:

  • a dermatologist – a doctor who treats skin problems
  • a plastic surgeon – a doctor who does surgery to repair or reconstruct tissue and skin
  • a cancer doctor (oncologist) – who specialises in radiotherapy, chemotherapy and other anti-cancer drugs to treat cancer
  • a specialist dermatology nurse – who gives provides information and support
  • radiologists – doctors who look at scans and x-rays to diagnose problems
  • pathologists – doctors who examine cells under the microscope and advise on the type of cancer.

After the MDT meeting, your doctor and specialist nurse will talk to you about the best treatment plan for you.

Types of treatment

The types of treatment include:

  • Surgery

    Surgery is the most common treatment for skin cancer. If you have a small area of skin cancer, the doctor can usually remove (excise) it with a local anaesthetic. Sometimes, a type of surgery called Mohs micrographic surgery is used. A technique called curettage and electrocautery may be used for small skin cancers. If you have a larger area removed, you are likely to have it removed under a general anaesthetic and you may need a skin graft or skin flap. Rarely, some people with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) may need to have some lymph nodes removed that are near to the cancer.

  • Cryotherapy

    Cryotherapy is a treatment that destroys cancer cells using liquid nitrogen to freeze them. It may be used to treat small skin cancers.

  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

    Photodynamic therapy (PDT) may be used to treat superficial skin cancers or Bowen’s disease. PDT destroys cancer cells by using light sources with a light-sensitive drug.

  • Chemotherapy or immunotherapy cream

    Some people have treatment using chemotherapy cream which is applied to the skin cancer. Immunotherapy cream can also be used to treat skin cancer. These creams may be used to treat some early superficial BCCs.

  • Radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy may be used instead of surgery for BCCs and SCCs skin cancers. This might be when surgery is not possible, as it would cause too much damage to the surrounding tissue or affect your appearance. Sometimes it may be given after surgery if there is a risk that there are any cancer cells still there. It is occasionally used when a non-melanoma skin cancer has spread to other places.

Less common treatments for skin cancer

Occasionally skin cancer may have spread deeper into the skin or very rarely to another part of the body. If this happens other treatments can be used.

  • Surgery to remove lymph nodes

    If there is evidence that an SCC has spread, you may need to have some lymph nodes removed. Only a small number of people who have SCCs need this operation.

  • Targeted therapies

    Targeted therapy drugs find and attack cancer cells. They may sometimes be used if skin cancer has spread deeper into the skin and or to other parts of the body. This is usually when surgery or radiotherapy are not suitable. Cemiplimab (Libtayo®) is an immunotherapy drug that may be used to treat SCC of the skin that has spread. You have it as a drip into a vein (intravenous infusion). Your doctor can tell you if a targeted therapy is appropriate for you.

  • Chemotherapy into a vein

    Chemotherapy is rarely used to treat SCCs or BCCs. It may be used if skin cancer has spread to another part of the body. Your doctor will tell you if chemotherapy treatment might be suitable.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our skin cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) NICE pathways: Skin Cancer Treatment overview. (updated 2020) 

    Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits. NICE guideline [NG34] Published:2016.

    British Journal of Dermatology. British Association of Dermatologists guidelines for the management of people with cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2020.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Cemiplimab for treating metastatic or locally advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma [TA592] Published: 07 August 2019. 

    BMJ Best Practice. Overview of Skin Cancer. (updated 2019)

    British Association of Dermatologists. Service Guidance and Standards for Mohs Micrographic Surgery (MMS). 2020.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Samra Turajlic, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.