Skin Cancer Treatment

If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer, confirmed by a tissue biopsy, you need treatment as soon as possible. Aurora Cancer Care doctors treat skin cancer by removing the skin lesion and some of the normal skin around it. Aurora doctors can often perform skin cancer treatment right in their offices. For instance, the doctor can numb the area where a lesion is being removed and then cut out the cancer. Depending on the type of skin cancer you have and its stage, certain types of treatment may follow once it’s removed.

About Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. While not the most common, it causes the most deaths. About 10,000 people will die this year from melanoma. Anyone can get melanoma, but it occurs more in men than in women, and tends to affect those with fair skin and who who burn easily. And, despite a better understanding of the need for sun protection, changes in our environment have contributed to a 690 percent increase in melanoma during the past 50 years. 

Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center was the first hospital in Wisconsin to offer a Melanoma Pigmented Lesion clinic focused on diagnosing melanoma. Through funding from the Robyn Temkin Melanoma Prevention Program, Aurora Health Care offers free skin cancer screenings and community education to build awareness about the dangers of melanoma.

Treating Melanoma Skin Cancer

Once the stage of melanoma cancer is known, the doctor develops a treatment plan based on the patient’s needs. You should discuss all treatment options with your physician. For some, a combination of treatments may be the best option.

Melanoma treatment options include:

Surgery: The first step in treating melanoma is to remove or "excise" the melanoma. Sometimes, this can be done in the doctor's office with local anesthesia. If the melanoma is larger and requires more extensive surgery, the procedure is performed in a surgery center with light-to-moderate sedation or in an operating room with general anesthesia.

Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses highly advanced technology and innovative treatment techniques to destroy cancer cells or to prevent diseased cells from growing.

External beam radiation: External beam radiation allows high doses of radiation to be directed specifically to the tumor itself, sparing healthy tissue in areas around it. Using three-dimensional treatment planning, the radiation oncologist can avoid critical structures, such as organs, while delivering high-dose radiation to the cancer cells. This usually is used to treat melanoma that’s spread to other organs. Most patients experience fatigue as a side effect of this treatment. Aurora St. Luke's has three different linear accelerators that allow our radiation oncologists to choose the optimal type of radiation for each person. 

Chemotherapy: To treat stage 3 and 4 melanoma, and melanoma that’s spread to the lymph nodes or other internal organs, additional or adjuvant therapies may be used. Chemotherapy uses a combination of cancer drugs. There are a few drugs available today to treat melanoma. Currently, Dacarbazine (DTIC), given by injection, is the only chemotherapy approved by the FDA. DTIC may be combined with carmustin (BCNU) and tamoxifen, or with cisplatin and vinblastine. Another drug, temozolomide, can be given by mouth. Chemotherapy has had limited success for melanoma patients, but research continues to look at new drugs and treatment options.

Cancer immunotherapy: With cancer, immune system cells are inactive (asleep), allowing the tumor to grow. Immunotherapy activates these cells to destroy cancer. One type uses immune system cells, which are taken out of the blood and manipulated in the laboratory. Once the cells have obtained cancer-killing ability, they’re given back to the patient to destroy his or her cancer. Immunotherapy has been effective against two types of cancer that were previously unresponsive to other treatments – melanoma and renal cell (kidney) cancer. The Immunotherapy program at Aurora St. Luke's was founded in 1987 and has treated more than 500 patients in that time. It’s one of only a few centers in the country and the only in Wisconsin to offer immunotherapy. Led by an expert team of physicians and researchers, the Immunotherapy program is on the cutting edge of research and treatment of melanoma.

Clinical Trials

If you have Stage 3 or 4 melanoma, you may want to consider clinical trials as a treatment option. These trials can give you access to new treatments that are not otherwise available. However, because they are in clinical trial stage, there are risks.

Aurora Cancer Care gives you access to ongoing, national clinic trials, including those sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

For more information about Aurora skin cancer treatments or Aurora’s Second Opinion Program, call 888-649-6892.