Less commonly used treatments for skin cancer

Surgery to remove lymph nodes

If there is evidence that a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) has spread, you may need to have some lymph nodes removed. This operation is called a lymphadenectomy or lymph node dissection. It is done to see if there are any cancer cells in the lymph nodes. If cancer cells are present, removing the lymph nodes can help to prevent them from spreading further. This is a large operation and is done under a general anaesthetic.

Only a very small number of people who have SCCs need this operation. It is not done for people with basal cell carcinomas (BCCs), as they almost never spread to the lymph nodes.

After a lymphadenectomy, you will have tubes (drains) coming from the wound to allow fluid to drain away. These will be removed a few days after the operation.

Occasionally, this operation may cause permanent swelling of the affected area. This is called lymphoedema. It happens when lymph fluid can’t drain properly from the area after the lymph nodes have been removed.

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies interfere with the way cancer cells grow. They are sometimes called biological therapies. They may occasionally be used when a BCC has spread. Because it is rare for a BCC to spread, targeted therapies are rarely used.

Doctors may use targeted therapies if a BCC has spread deeper, but surgery or radiotherapy is not suitable. They may also occasionally use them if a BCC has spread away from the original site (advanced or metastatic).

These drugs are not widely available throughout the UK for skin cancers. Your doctor can tell you if they are appropriate for you.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is very rarely used to treat non-melanoma skin cancers. It is occasionally used when someone has a skin cancer that has spread away from the original site. It is usually given into a vein (intravenously). Different types of chemotherapy may be used depending on the type of skin cancer.

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Immunotherapy for skin cancer

Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. Immunotherapy cream can be used to treat some small skin cancers.