Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in America with over 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer treated in approximately 3.3 million people per annum. An estimated 20% of Americans will develop the condition at some point in their lives, and there have been more cases of the condition in the U.S. in the last 30 years than every other form of cancer combined.
According to the CDC, doctors told over 71,000 people that they had a melanoma in 2013, and over 9,300 people died from the condition in the same year. The vast majority of skin cancer cases are treatable, and in certain locations, dermatologists use radiation to eliminate the problem.
When Do Patients Need Radiation?
The skin is our largest organ, and the one we abuse the most. If you have a melanoma, radiation is not always the best treatment. However, patients can utilize radiation therapy as an alternative if surgery is not possible. Patients may receive radiation treatment for a desmoplastic melanoma, one of the rarer examples of the condition.
Occasionally, patients receive radiation therapy after having surgery for lymph node removal. This is especially the case if the node had cancer cells. The goal is to reduce the possibility of the cancer returning. If you have a melanoma that returned after surgery in the lymph or skin nodes, you can choose radiation treatment to prevent the disease from spreading.
Finally, you can use radiation therapy as a means of relieving the symptoms caused by the spread of the melanoma to the bones or brain, also known as palliative therapy. At this stage, the therapy will probably not cure the cancer, but it may slow its growth and help extend your lifespan.
What Is the Procedure Like?
An increasing number of dermatologists are using the less invasive method of treating skin cancer, and patients are coming in droves. Instead of undergoing painful surgery to conserve tissue, it is possible to receive treatment in the form of superficial radiation known as external beam radiation therapy.
The schedule of the treatment depends on where the melanoma is, as well as the goal of the therapy. The medical team measures everything precisely to ensure they find the best angles to aim the beam for the ideal radiation dosage. In a sense, undergoing the treatment is very similar to having an x-ray, except the dose of radiation is significantly stronger. While radiation treatment for other forms of cancer involves deep penetration into the human body, external beam therapy penetrates little more than 1/8-inch into the skin.
The majority of sessions last in the 15-30 minute range, and in most cases, 20 sessions are enough to eliminate the melanoma. The list of advantages associated with the treatment is lengthy. First, the patient ends up with healthy tissue and no convalescing time. Secondly, the treatment is short and painless, and thirdly, dermatologists can perform the procedure in their offices. Patients are delighted to learn that a solution to their melanoma exists that doesn’t involve needles and the like.
Patients put on goggles and lead aprons, and then they lie back, relax, and allow the technology to work its magic. According to patients who have undergone the procedure, there is no pain, itching, or any feeling whatsoever. Ultrasound assists the system and shows the size and depth of the cancer; it also sees if the lesion has reduced in size or disappeared altogether.
Is It the Treatment of the Future?
The answer to this question is almost certainly “yes.” According to Daniel Ladd, a dermatologist in Austin, Texas, patients used to undergo surgery for skin cancer in 90% of cases. Now, 70% of them prefer external beam radiation therapy. Note that the treatment is an alternative to surgery, not a replacement. In some instances, patients will need surgery to eliminate the melanoma. For example, only stage 0 cases presently use radiation therapy.
As well as reducing recovery time, radiation therapy is proving very successful. In fact, its success rate of 95% is comparable to surgery’s strike rate. You are probably a good candidate for the procedure if you have diabetes or are on blood thinners, because surgery carries risks for such individuals.
Patients must undergo up to 20 sessions, which is more time-consuming than one surgery, but the majority of people are happy to make that particular sacrifice. After all, they benefit from no scarring, and there is no recovery time. You can literally schedule the procedure during your lunch hour at work! Best of all, Medicare and most insurance companies cover the procedure.