Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

A number of treatments are available for basal cell carcinoma. What treatment is best for you depends on the type, location and severity of your cancer. Some commonly used basal cell carcinoma treatments include:

  • Electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C). ED&C involves removing the surface of the skin cancer with a scraping instrument (curette) and then searing the base of the cancer with an electric needle. This treatment is often used for small cancers located on your legs and ears. ED&C can leave an oozing, crusty scab that heals over several weeks.
  • Surgical excision. In this procedure, your doctor cuts out the cancerous tissue and a surrounding margin of healthy skin. In some cases, you may have a wide excision, which involves removing additional normal skin around the cancer. A surgical excision may be an option if you have a large basal cell carcinoma. To minimize scarring, especially on your face, consult a doctor skilled in skin reconstruction.
  • Freezing. This involves killing cancerous cells by freezing them with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery). It's useful for cancers that are very thin and don't extend deep into the skin.
  • Mohs surgery. During the procedure, your doctor removes the cancer cells layer by layer, examining each layer under the microscope until no abnormal cells remain. This allows the entire growth to be removed without taking an excessive amount of surrounding healthy tissue. This is an effective treatment for recurring basal cell carcinomas and those that are large, deep, fast-growing, morpheaform or on your face.
  • Topical treatments. Basal cell carcinoma that is superficial and doesn't extend very far into the skin may be treated with creams or ointments. The drugs imiquimod (Aldara) and fluorouracil (Carac, Fluoroplex, Efudex) are used for several weeks to treat certain basal cell carcinomas that are limited to the surface of the skin.
  • Medication for advanced cancer. Basal cell carcinoma that spreads to other areas of the body (metastasizes) may be treated with vismodegib (Erivedge). This medication may also be an option for people whose cancers haven't responded to other treatments.

    Vismodegib blocks signals that allow basal cell carcinomas to continue growing.

Sep. 07, 2013