Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma treatment and recovery


We find and treat most squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers at an early stage. We can remove or destroy them with local treatment methods, so we can usually cure them. Larger squamous cell cancers are harder to treat, and fast-growing cancers have a higher risk of coming back. Your medical team will work with you to create the best treatment plan for your unique case and recovery.

We may use any combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or new immunotherapies to treat or control your cancer:


There are a few different types we can use:

  • Excision. Cutting out the tumor, along with a small margin of normal skin.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation. Useful in treating small, thin squamous cell cancers.
  • Mohs surgery. Useful for squamous cell cancers that pose a higher risk for coming back, such as tumors larger than 2 cm (about 4/5 inch) across or with poorly defined edges, cancers that have come back after other treatments, cancers that are spreading along nerves under the skin, and cancers on certain areas of the face or genital area.

Cryotherapy. Used for some early squamous cell cancers, especially in people who can’t have surgery.

Lymph node dissection. Might be recommended for some squamous cell cancers that are very large or have grown deeply into the skin, as well as if the lymph nodes feel enlarged and/or hard.

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy. X-rays and other types of medical radiation aimed at specific parts of the body. The radiation kills cancer cells, prevents cancer cells from developing or recurring, and improves many of cancer’s symptoms. For certain cancers, radiation therapy is combined with chemotherapy and called chemo-radiotherapy.

Systemic chemotherapy and/or targeted therapy. Chemotherapy and targeted therapy drugs (EGFR inhibitors) might be other options for patients with squamous cell cancer that has spread to lymph nodes or distant organs. These types of treatment might be combined or used separately.

Immunotherapy. Uses your own immune system to fight cancer.

Photodynamic therapy. Treatment that uses a certain type of laser light and a drug sensitive to that light to kill cancer cells. To treat skin cancer, laser light is shined onto the skin to activate the drug. Photodynamic therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue.

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas: learn more