Health Encyclopedia

Treatment for Skin Cancer in Children

There are various treatment choices for skin cancer in children. Which one may work best for your child’s child? It depends on a number of factors. These include the size, location, and stage of your child’s skin cancer. Factors also include your child’s age, overall health, and what side effects he or she will find acceptable.

Learning about your child’s treatment options

You may have questions and concerns about your child’s treatment options. You may also want to know how your child’s child will feel and function after treatment. You’ll want to know if your child’s child will have to change his or her normal activities.

Because skin cancer is much more common in adults, many treatments have not been studied a lot in children. The doctor is the best person to answer your child’s questions about which treatments may work best. He or she can tell you what your child’s treatment choices are, how successful they’re expected to be, and what the risks and side effects are. Your child’s doctor may advise a specific treatment. Or he or she may offer more than one, and talk with you and your child’s child to decide which one to use.

Your child’s child may have just one treatment, or a combination of treatments.

Surgery

Surgery is a common treatment for skin cancer. It is used in most cases when the cancer is still at an early stage. Many skin cancers can be removed easily and need only very minor surgery. Others may need a more extensive surgery. The surgery options include:

  • Excision. This is done to cut the cancer from the skin, along with some of the healthy tissue around it.

  • Curettage and electrodesiccation. The tumor is cut from the skin using a sharp instrument called a curette. Then a needle-shaped electrode is used to stop bleeding and kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind in the edges of the wound.

  • Mohs surgery. This procedure removes the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible. It’s done in sensitive areas such as the face. During this surgery, the surgeon removes a thin layer of skin including the cancer, and then uses a microscope to make sure no cancer cells remain. If cancer cells are seen, another layer of skin is removed.

  • Cryosurgery. This procedure uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the tumor and kill cancer cells.

  • Laser therapy. A narrow beam of intense light is used to remove cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is done with medicines. Chemotherapy is most often done by applying strong medicine to the skin to kill cancer cells. In cases of advanced cancer, medicines may be given through an IV or by mouth.           

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is also done with medicine, but it works differently than regular chemotherapy. The medicine targets specific parts of cancer cells. The medicine can be taken as a pill. It may be used in rare cases where surgery or radiation can’t be used.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays or other types of radiation. The goal of this treatment is to kill cancer cells. Radiation is not a common treatment for skin cancer, but it may be used for skin cancer in areas where surgery could be difficult or leave a bad scar. In some cases, this treatment is used instead of surgery. It can also be used to get rid of any cancer cells that may be left after surgery.

Photodynamic therapy

The goal of this treatment is to kill cells at the tumor site by using a medicine to make the cells more sensitive to a special laser light. This limits damage to healthy tissue. This therapy is sometimes used for nonmelanoma skin cancer. For more information, ask your child’s doctor about this therapy.

Biologic therapy

This type of therapy is done with medicines. The medicines use chemicals that affect the immune system. It is also called immunotherapy, antibody therapy, or vaccine therapy. The medicine uses your child’s immune defense to attack the cancer cells. The treatments can be given as a cream that is applied on the tumor. Or it can be given as an injection into the tumor.

Clinical trials for new treatments

Researchers are always finding new ways to treat cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Talk with your child’s doctor to find out if there are any clinical trials you should consider for your child’s child.

Talking with your child’s doctor

At first, thinking about treatment options may seem overwhelming. Talk with your child’s doctors, nurses, and loved ones. Make a list of questions. Consider the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Discuss your child’s concerns with your child’s doctor before making a decision.

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Medical Reviewers:

  • Alteri, Rick, MD
  • Cunningham, Louise, RN