A type of highly conformal radiation therapy typically used to treat gynecological cancers is also used to treat patients with non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas, according to a cancer specialist at the Lynn Cancer Institute in the USA. Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health.
Hina Saeed, MD, associate director of radiation oncology at the Lynn Cancer Institute at Baptist Health City in Boynton Beach, says the Institute, under the direction of its medical director of radiation oncology, Michael Kasper, MD, has since years a national leader in brachytherapy and skin cancer treatment and education.
“We now have the ability to treat skin cancer and gynecological cancer patients with brachytherapy here at Baptist Health City, but we have used it at the Boca Raton Institute for over 20 years to successfully treat these types of cancers,” said Dr. Said. Patients with melanoma – a much more serious form of skin cancer due to its ability to metastasize undetected for months or even years – usually require external radiation therapy combined with systemic therapy such as chemotherapy and l immunotherapy, she says.
The main benefit of brachytherapy, according to Dr. Saeed, is its ability to destroy cancer cells while maintaining skin health. “Traditionally, skin cancers are surgically removed by excision, a simple in-office procedure that can be performed under local anesthesia,” says Dr. Saeed. “It can sometimes leave small scars, however, and depending on the location and size of their cancer, some patients then opt for plastic surgery to minimize scarring and maintain their ‘perfect’ appearance.”
An outpatient procedure without surgery, anesthesia, scarring or long-term side effects
With brachytherapy, a small device placed on the skin delivers high-dose radiation (HDR) directly to cancer cells for four to eight minutes. No surgery or anesthesia is needed during this outpatient procedure, and there are no scars or long-term side effects, says Dr. Saeed. Each patient receives an individualized treatment plant that takes into account their unique anatomy and the exact location of their tumor.
“Brachytherapy is very effective in treating cancer, especially when surgery is not an option. It is also an attractive option for patients with non-melanoma skin cancer, as the procedure allows for excellent aesthetics or preservation of healthy tissue, with minimal skin reactions and excellent results,” explains Dr. Saeed. “Healthy tissue is much less damaged because we don’t have to remove a piece of skin with the cancer cells.” Additionally, she says, skin cancer patients treated with HDR brachytherapy generally have a low likelihood of recurrence.
Another advantage, according to Dr. Saeed: “Because we only use HD, the total treatment time is reduced, with each session taking only a few minutes and a total of six to ten treatments being sufficient for most patients. .” Plus, because Lynn is a high-volume cancer center, her radiation sources are replaced more frequently, which also translates to faster 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 against skin cancer is to avoid sun exposure, especially during our peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.,” advises Dr. Saeed.
But Dr. Saeed also understands that here in South Florida, people like to be outdoors year-round. “Not going out in the middle of the day is not always an option,” she admits. “My advice is to wear a wide-brimmed hat and SPF clothing that covers as much exposed skin as possible, then use sunscreen to cover anything that’s still exposed.”
As for screenings, Dr. Saeed says that if you live in South Florida, you should see 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 skin type, a head-to-toe exam usually only takes about 15 minutes, she says.
“It doesn’t matter how long you spend in the sun. Just walking to and from your car when you go out in the middle of the day can expose you to dangerous sunlight, even on cloudy days,” warns Dr Saeed. “Your skin color doesn’t matter either. Skin cancer is not uncommon in black and African-American populations.