A Non-Invasive Treatment for Skin Cancer Enhances Patient Outcomes and Protects Healthy Skin
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A type of highly conformal radiation therapy typically used to treat gynecologic cancers is also being used to treat patients with non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, according to a cancer specialist with Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, which is part of Baptist Health.
Hina Saeed, M.D., deputy director of radiation oncology with Lynn Cancer Institute at Baptist Health City in Boynton Beach, says that the Institute, under the direction of its medical director of radiation oncology, Michael Kasper, M.D., has for years been a national leader in both brachytherapy and skin cancer treatment and education.
“We now have the capability to treat skin cancer and gynecologic cancer patients with brachytherapy here at Baptist Health City but we’ve been using it at the Institute in Boca Raton for more than 20 years to successfully treat these types of cancers,” Dr. Saeed says. Patients with melanoma – a much more serious form of skin cancer because of its ability to metastasize undetected for months or even years – typically require external beam radiation therapy paired with systemic therapy such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, she says.
The primary advantage of brachytherapy, according to Dr. Saeed, is its ability to destroy cancer cells while preserving healthy skin. “Traditionally, skin cancers are surgically removed through excision, a simple in-office procedure that can be done with local anesthetic,” Dr. Saeed says. “This can sometimes leave small scars, though, and depending on the location and the size of their cancer, some patients opt for plastic surgery afterwards to minimize scarring and maintain their ‘perfect’ looks.”
An outpatient procedure with no surgery, anesthesia, scars or long-term side effects
With brachytherapy, a small device placed on the skin delivers high dose radiation (HDR) directly to the cancerous cells for four to eight minutes. No surgery or anesthesia is required during this outpatient procedure, and there is no scarring or long-term side effects, Dr. Saeed says. Every patient receives an individualized treatment plant that accounts for their unique anatomy and the exact location of their tumor.
“Brachytherapy is very effective at treating cancer, especially when surgery isn’t an option. It’s also an attractive option for non-melanoma skin cancer patients because the procedure allows for excellent cosmesis, or preservation of healthy tissue, with minimal skin reactions and excellent outcomes,” Dr. Saeed explains. “There’s much less damage to healthy tissue because we don’t have to take out a chunk of skin along with the cancer cells.” In addition, she says, skin cancer patients treated with HDR brachytherapy usually have a low likelihood of recurrence.
Another benefit, according to Dr. Saeed: “Because we only use HD, total treatment time is compressed, with each session taking just a few minutes and a total of six to ten treatments being adequate for most patients.” Also, because Lynn is a high-volume cancer center, its radiation sources are replaced more frequently, which also translates into more rapid treatment times for patients, she says.
Skin cancer prevention starts with staying safe in the sun
Dr. Saeed reminds patients that, as with most cancers, prevention and regular screenings can go a long way in keeping your skin healthy and cancer-free. “The best way to protect yourself from getting skin cancer is to avoid sun exposure – especially during our peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.,” Dr. Saeed advises.
But Dr. Saeed also understands that, here in South Florida, people love being outside year-round. “Not going outdoors during the middle of the day isn’t always an option,” she acknowledges. “My advice is to wear a wide-brim hat and SPF clothing that covers as much of your exposed skin as possible, and then use sunscreen to cover whatever else is still exposed.”
As for screenings, Dr. Saeed says that if you live in South Florida, you should be seeing a dermatologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating skin cancer at least once a year for a thorough screening. Depending on the patient, their history and their skin type, a head-to-toe exam usually takes just 15 minutes or so, she says.
“It doesn’t matter how much time you spend in the sun. Just walking to and from your car when you go out during the middle of the day can expose you to the sun’s dangerous rays, even when it’s cloudy,” Dr. Saeed warns. “Your skin color doesn’t matter either. Skin cancer is not uncommon in Black and African American populations.”
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