September 1st 2023

Skin Cancer Treatment Options: Radiation or Surgery

Radiation Therapy as a Treatment Option for Skin Cancer

One of the most common forms of cancer is skin cancer. In Ireland alone, over 13,000 cases are diagnosed each year. Skin cancer is primarily caused by UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds.

An reader is considering the possible treatment options for her husband’s skin cancer that she fears has returned. Her husband spent years in the sun and has already had a number of skin cancers removed through surgery. Ahead of his check-up appointment, she asks for Dr Siobhra O’Sullivan’s advice on the differences between radiation or surgery as a treatment option for skin cancer.

Dr Siobhra O’Sullivan is a Consultant Radiation Oncologist here at Beacon Hospital. Dr O’Sullivan discusses the advantages and disadvantages of surgery and radiation as treatment. She also provides some instances where either of the treatment options for skin cancer is more suitable.

Radiation therapy, which uses targeted high-energy X-rays, can be an effective non-invasive alternative to surgery. Dr O’Sullivan explains radiation is particularly suited to patients over 50 or 60 years old. It can be more suitable than surgery when cancer occurs in sensitive areas of the face or when surgery is declined or deemed too risky. For small superficial skin cancers, radiation is highly successful, with over 90 percent effectiveness and minimal side effects, including cosmetic results. More aggressive or advanced cases may require a combination of surgery and radiation.

Dr O’Sullivan advises that each radiation treatment program is tailored to each individual case. This includes the specific type and location of cancer and treatment typically involves outpatient sessions lasting 15-20 minutes. The number of sessions varies, with some cases requiring as few as 5 sessions and others up to 30 sessions.

Dr O’Sullivan stresses it is important to consult with your treating doctor to determine if radiation therapy is a suitable option for your specific situation.

Read Dr Siobhra O’Sullivan’s full piece on radiation therapy as a treatment for skin cancer at here.