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Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment

Your skin cancer treatment should not be “one-size-fits-all.” Patients undergoing treatment for basal cell carcinoma at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center have the added advantage of working with a team of specialists in dermatology, medical and surgical oncology, plastic surgery, pathology and dermatopathology. The program also offers whole body photography to document and track skin changes.

At Penn, our multidisciplinary team will work with you to create a treatment plan that may include one or a combination of the following treatments.

Clinical Trials for Basal Cell Carcinoma

Clinical trials benefit patients by offering access to breakthrough therapies and treatments. 

Because more and more treatments for cancer are becoming available, it’s important to speak with your doctor about available clinical trials throughout your entire cancer treatment. 

Advantages of Clinical Trials

Being in a clinical trial offers you access to treatments, medications or agents that are not otherwise available. It also gives you the opportunity to be treated by, and have your case reviewed by experts who are directly involved with the design of the treatment. 

Through clinical trials:

  • Diagnosing cancer has become more precise
  • Radiation and surgical techniques have advanced
  • Medications have become more effective to treat cancer and make the treatment for cancer more tolerable
  • Combinations of medical, surgical and radiation therapy are improving treatment effectiveness and enhancing outcomes
  • Strategies to address the late effects of cancer and its treatment have been developed to improve the quality of life

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus slowing or stopping tumor growth. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells in a specific location.

Radiation therapy may be the primary treatment of choice for select patients who are not surgical candidates, either because of the size or location of the lesion or other physical limitations. 

Image Guided Radiation Therapy

IGRT uses frequent imaging during a course of radiation therapy to improve the precision and accuracy of the delivery the radiation treatment. In IGRT, the linear accelerators (machines that delivers radiation) are equipped with imaging technology that take pictures of the tumor immediately before or even during the time radiation is delivered.

Specialized computer software compares these images of the tumor to the images taken during the simulation to establish the treatment plan. Necessary adjustments can then be made to the patient's position and/or the radiation beams to more precisely target the tumor and avoid the healthy surrounding tissue.


Surgery for skin cancer has two goals:
  • To remove all of the cancer with a margin of healthy tissue around it, known as wide excision
  • To determine if the cancer has spread beyond the primary site to the adjacent lymph nodes

basal cell carcinoma may be surgically removed with a sharp instrument called a curette, frozen off, or burned with a laser. 

For larger tumors and/or those on the face, head or neck, Mohs surgery may be performed. 

Mohs Surgery

Mohs micrographic surgery offers the best chance for completely removing skin cancer while conserving as much healthy skin as possible. Mohs surgery uses microscopic guidance to decrease the likelihood of missing cancer cells not visible at the skin surface thus avoiding large incisions that unnecessarily remove healthy skin and result in bigger scars.

Mohs surgery offers major advantages for patients including:

  • Immediate microscopic evaluation during the procedure that confirms that the skin cancer is completely removed 
  • The highest published cure rates for many forms of skin cancer, making it less likely the cancer may grow back. The rate of cancer recurrence for patients who have their cancer removed using Mohs surgery is just 2 percent, compared to 10 percent for patients who do not have the procedure
  • Maximal preservation of healthy skin for the best possible cosmetic and functional results 
  • The precision of Mohs surgery is especially useful for the treatment of skin cancers that exhibit the following appearance or characteristics:
  • Large in size
  • Poorly defined edges
  • Skin cancer that returns after previous treatments
  • Skin cancer located on areas of the body where it is critical to keep the surgical incision as small as possible to obtain excellent cosmetic and functional outcomes
Patients with skin cancer of the face, head or neck may require Mohs and reconstructive surgery

Mohs surgery is a highly skilled and precise surgical technique offered by Penn Dermatology for the removal of various types of head and neck skin cancers including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

This type of surgery can also be used to remove rare or high-risk skin cancers that occur on the trunk and extremities.


Topical Treatments for Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Some skin cancers may be treated with a topical solution, gel or cream that contains chemotherapy agents and medications.

Other Treatments for Basal Cell Carcinoma

In addition to standard treatments and clinical trials, you may wish to add additional therapies and treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and art therapy.

These therapies do not have curative intent, and are designed to complement standard treatments – not take their place.

Integrative Oncology Services

Our integrative oncology services can supplement traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.

While conventional medicine plays a critical role in eradicating cancer, integrative oncology services offer you and your family ways to minimize or reduce the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, and promote healing and recovery.

Our cancer teams work with patients and families to integrate these supportive programs into the overall care plan, while ensuring the safety and health of patients.

Our integrative supportive services include: