Skin cancer can usually be treated successfully if it’s detected early.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center offers comprehensive skin cancer care at the Multidisciplinary Skin Oncology Clinic, including advanced treatments and new options available only through clinical studies.
A diagnosis of cancer can feel overwhelming. We have an experienced, compassionate team ready to help.
This page focuses on treatment for:
We have dermatologists, surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists who specialize in skin cancer; the most advanced diagnostic, treatment and recovery programs; and extensive support.
Fred Hutch patients have access to advanced therapies being explored in clinical studies for skin cancer conducted here and at UW Medicine.
We view treatment as a collaborative effort. Your Fred Hutch doctors will explain all your options and recommend a treatment plan based on the type, location, size and stage of your cancer and your overall health.
Your personal team includes more than your skin cancer physicians. Additional experts who specialize in treating people with cancer will be involved if you need them — experts like a palliative care professional, social worker, physical therapist or registered dietitian.
Learn more about our Supportive Care Services
During and after treatment, your team continues to provide follow-up care on a schedule tailored to you. The Fred Hutch Survivorship Clinic is also here to help you live your healthiest life as a skin cancer survivor.
Learn more about the Survivorship Clinic
Physicians may use liquid nitrogen on precancerous conditions to freeze and kill the cells. The skin will later blister and shed off. This procedure will sometimes leave a white scar. More than one freezing may be needed.
If you have a precancerous condition that’s only in the outer layer of your skin, your physicians may use a narrow beam of high-intensity light to destroy the cells.
This is a common procedure where the cancer is removed with a sharp, spoon-shaped instrument called a curette. Electrodessication uses an electric current to control bleeding and kill any remaining cancer cells after the doctor uses the curette. You may be left with a white, flat scar after this procedure.
Our skin cancer surgery team includes experts in surgical oncology, reconstruction and head and neck surgery. This team specializes in the treatment of skin cancer, and you can feel confident knowing that the surgeons who care for you are best suited for your specific diagnosis.
Depending on the size and location of your tumor, your team may recommend a method called Mohs micrographic surgery. The surgeon removes one thin layer of tissue at a time. During surgery, each layer is looked at with a microscope to see if the surgeon needs to remove another layer in order to get all of the tumor. Mohs is sometimes used for skin cancer in cosmetically sensitive areas (to reduce the amount of skin removed), for tumors with poorly defined borders or for cancers that have come back.
For some skin cancers, you may need a simple excision (removing it by cutting it out). Your physician removes the tumor, along with a margin of normal-looking skin around the tumor. If the cancer is thicker, your surgeon will have to cut wider margins. This is important so that the cancer does not grow back at the original location later.
The surgical oncologist who removes your skin cancer may be able to close the wound by bringing the edges of the skin together. If the wound is too large or the cancer went too deep for this approach, our reconstructive surgeons offer more options. One is closing the wound with neighboring skin that is turned into place (local tissue rearrangement). Others involve using skin from another part of your body (skin grafting) or using skin plus other tissue from another body area (free-flap reconstruction).
Learn more about Reconstructive Surgery
If you have skin cancer that is hard to treat with surgery, such as cancer on your eyelid, the tip of your nose or your ear, you may need radiation therapy, which uses high-energy rays or other particles to kill the cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer that’s limited to the top layer of the skin or to treat precancerous skin conditions. It may be prescribed in a cream or lotion form. These medicines are usually applied daily for several weeks. They may cause inflammation, which goes away after treatment.
Some physicianss are using imiquimod (Aldara), which is an immune-response modifier, to treat early basal cell carcinoma, actinic keratosis (squamous cell carcinoma precursor) and very thin squamous cell carcinoma. It is a topical medicine applied several times a week.
In rare cases, squamous cell carcinoma can grow deeper into the skin and can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. The most susceptible areas are sites of a chronic inflammatory skin condition, mucous membranes (skin that lines the mouth, nose, vagina and anus) and the lips. Surgery alone is not effective in treating metastatic skin cancer. Your treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy (which boosts your immune system’s ability to fight the cancer.)