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Skin Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Basal Cell Carcinoma of the Skin Treatment

There is a wide range of treatment approaches, including excision, radiation therapy, cryosurgery, electrodesiccation and curettage, photodynamic or laser-beam light exposure, and topical therapies. Mohs micrographic surgery is a form of tumor excision that involves progressive radial sectioning and real-time examination of the resection margins until adequate uninvolved margins have been achieved, avoiding wider margins than needed. Each of these methods is useful in specific clinical situations. Depending on case selection, these methods have recurrence-free rates ranging from 85% to 95%.

A systematic review of 27 randomized controlled trials comparing various treatments for BCC has been published.[1] Eighteen of the studies were published in full, and nine were published in abstract form only. Only 19 of the 27 trials were analyzed by intention-to-treat criteria. Because the case fatality rate of BCC is so low, the primary endpoint of most trials is complete response and/or recurrence rate after treatment. Most of the identified studies had short follow-up times (only one study had a follow-up as long as 4 years) and were not of high quality. Short follow-up periods will lead to overestimates of tumor control. A literature review of recurrence rates in case series with long-term follow-up after treatment of BCCs indicated that only 50% of recurrences occurred within the first 2 years, 66% after 3 years, and 18% after 5 years.[2] A rule of thumb was that the 10-year recurrence rates were about double the 2-year recurrence rates.

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Treatment for Basal Cell Carcinoma of the Skin

Treatment options include the following:

  1. Excision with margin evaluation.
  2. Mohs micrographic surgery.
  3. Radiation therapy.
  4. Curettage and electrodesiccation.
  5. Cryosurgery.
  6. Photodynamic therapy.
  7. Topical fluorouracil (5-FU).
  8. Imiquimod topical therapy.
  9. Carbon dioxide laser.

Excision with margin evaluation

This traditional surgical treatment usually relies on surgical margins ranging from 3 mm to 10 mm, depending on the diameter of the tumor. Re-excision may be required if the surgical margin is found to be inadequate on permanent sectioning. For example, in one trial, 35 of 199 (18%) primary BCCs were incompletely excised by the initial surgery and underwent a re-excision.[3] In addition, many laboratories examine only a small fraction of the total tumor margin pathologically. Therefore, the declaration of tumor-free margins can be subject to sampling error.[4]

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