The consistent rise of skin cancer diagnoses over the years has created an influx in the demand for better, high-quality treatment options for the said disease. To date, there are now over nine (9) treatment choices for skin cancer. One among these is called Superficial Radiation Therapy or SRT. Find out what makes this procedure different from other treatment options.
What is Superficial Radiation Therapy?
To understand how Superficial Radiation Therapy (SRT) works and how it differs from other cancer treatment methods, it’s important to recourse how radiation is traditionally used in the medical field to control, palliate, and treat cancer.
Generally, radiation refers to high-energy rays emitted by natural and man-made sources, such as minerals, CT scans, and X-rays. Normally, exposure to low doses of radiation is considered safe and may even be beneficial. However, it can lead to DNA damage and eventual cell death at high doses.
In traditional radiation oncology, high amounts of radiation are used to damage the genetic materials of cancer cells, prohibit their growth and proliferation, and eventually kill them. In a 2012 study, radiation therapy accounted for around 40% of curative treatment for cancer. It remains a popular treatment choice for many patients to date.
Yet, impressive as it may, radiation therapy isn’t entirely risk-free. One problem involving the procedure is that radiation does not only affect cancerous cells but may damage surrounding healthy cells as well. Consequently, the method results in nausea, fatigue, skin damage, and more.
In superficial radiation therapy (SRT), instead of using traditional machines that deliver high-dose of radiation towards cancer sites, doctors take advantage of low-energy x-rays or electrons that do not penetrate deeper than five millimeters into the body and focus on damaging cancer cells near the surface of the skin.
The technique results in minimal to no scarring, reduced risk of infections, and even quicker recovery.
Since the low-energy particles do not penetrate very deeply into the body, SRT is used to treat superficial basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), known as nonmelanoma skin cancers.
What to expect during the treatment?
Superficial radiation therapy is generally a non-invasive procedure. It requires no cutting or stitching. Consequently, the whole treatment is painless. At the very least, the area being treated may feel hot or warm.
To start, you will be made to lie or sit in a position that will expose the location of the cancerous tumor to be treated. Once you’re properly set, the doctor shall apply the SRT machines on or close to the skin of the target site. This could either be a LINAC machine, which uses electrons, or a superficial x-ray machine. Either way, the radiation apparatus will stay in contact or near the target skin area for a few minutes.
Once done, the doctor shall then remove the parts or applicators and conclude the session.
What type of skin cancer does SRT treat?
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
The first two are collectively known as “non-melanoma” skin cancer. Specifically, basal cell carcinoma develops in the mid-part of the epidermis, while squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the outermost part of the epidermis. These two are among the most common types of skin cancer. Fortunately, they are less likely to spread to other parts of the body compared to other cancer.
On the other hand, melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in melanocytes. These are cells located in the bottom layer of the epidermis and produce the pigment melanin. Melanoma skin cancer is much less common than non-melanoma, but it is also deadlier since it is aggressive and can spread faster.
Since the procedure involves only low-energy particles that do not penetrate deeply into the body, SRT can only control, palliate, and hopefully treat basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). It does not treat melanoma.
Are there side effects of superficial radiotherapy?
Patients who undergo SRT will still experience a few side effects. These include:
- Redness or soreness of the skin exposed to radiation
- Itchiness of the skin
- Affected skin may become scaly or crusty
- Hair loss on the treated area
How effective is superficial radiation therapy?
Various trials have already been conducted exploring the effectiveness of SRT in the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers. So far, the results have been largely positive.
In a 2019 study, a group of researchers reviewed the effects of SRT for treating basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) lesions among elderly patients. They observed that the use of said treatment method resulted in a 97.4% cure rate.
A more recent study reinforced this conclusion, stating that SRT results in 98.9% non-reoccurrence of nonmelanoma skin cancers within 85 months following the therapy.
To date, scientists continue mapping the potential of SRT in treating nonmelanoma skin cancers without the need for invasive cutting, bleeding, or stitching.
What other treatment options are there?
Other skin cancer treatment choices include the following:
- Mohs Surgery
- Curettage and electrodesiccation
Schedule an Appointment with Us!
If you have skin cancer or know someone diagnosed with the disease, seeking early and proper treatment must come as your top priority. Buckeye Dermatology is here to help you find the best treatment option that will suit your current condition. We offer Mohs surgery, Superficial Radiation Therapy, and more.
You may call us at (602) 754-6075 or visit our office at your convenience.