SkinCancerNet Article
Early Treatment of Skin Cancer Recommended

If your doctor suspects that a spot or patch could be skin cancer, you may be tempted to wait and see if the lesion grows. Such a decision may seem practical, but dermatologists caution that it can be risky. Here’s why dermatologists recommend early detection and treatment.

  1. Early Treatment Often Cures
    With early detection and proper treatment, skin cancer has a high cure rate. Even melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, can be cured with early detection and treatment. The 5-year survival rate when melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 99%. The prognosis is not as favorable once melanoma spreads.

  2. Early Treatment Easier to Undergo
    Treatment for an early skin cancer generally can be performed in a dermatologist’s office, with a local (affects only the area to be treated) anesthesia. Additional treatment may not be necessary.

    Waiting until the growth becomes bothersome typically requires more extensive treatment. Even when the skin cancer grows slowly as basal cell carcinoma does, treatment can require removing a significant amount of skin and tissue as the following photographs illustrate.

    Woman after skin cancer surgery
    For 7 years, this woman ignored a growth on her nose. To treat this basal cell carcinoma, the surgeon had to remove skin and a good amount of underlying tissue.


    Woman ignored growth for years
    For many years, this woman covered a growing lesion with her hair. This turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer.

    (Photos used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides)

    In advanced cases, surgery may not be a treatment option. If basal cell carcinoma is considered inoperable, radiation therapy may be recommended. This treatment may relieve symptoms such as pain, but generally does not cure the cancer.

  3. Early Treatment Offers Best Cosmetic Result
    Caught early, treatment generally involves removing the entire growth and a margin normal-looking skin. Taking a margin of normal-looking skin helps to ensure that cancerous cells are removed. The treated skin tends to heal, usually resulting in a nearly imperceptible scar.

    Allowed to progress, treatment often becomes more difficult — as does a good cosmetic result. The two most common forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, can invade and destroy nearby tissue. If this happens, treatment can be difficult, especially on the head and neck. Before treating skin cancer in these areas, the doctor must consider the potential for a cure; possible effects on an eye, ear, or nose; and the patient’s physical appearance after treatment.

If your doctor suspects that a mole or other lesion could be skin cancer, it is essential not to delay diagnosis and treatment. Skin cancer is very treatable and beatable with early detection and proper treatment.

American Academy of Dermatology. “Melanoma Fact Sheet” Available at Last accessed June 30, 2009.

American Academy of Dermatology. “Skin Cancer Fact Sheet” Available at Last accessed June 30, 2009.

Fincher EF, Gladstone HB. “Dual transposition flaps for the reconstruction of large scalp defects.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, June 2009; 60: 985-9.

Kleydman Y, Manolidis S, Ratner D. “Basal cell carcinoma with intracranial invasion.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, June 2009; 60: 1045-9.


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Early detection and proper treatment of skin cancer offer the best prognosis.

     © American Academy of Dermatology, 2010  All rights reserved.

Page last updated 8/12/09

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