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Radiation therapy is a treatment option for basal cell carcinoma that involves using high-energy rays to destroy cancerous cells. While surgery is most commonly the primary treatment used for this type of cancer, there are circumstances when radiation therapy may be used as the first treatment. In other instances, radiation therapy may be used prior to or following another treatment.

Types of radiation therapy used for basal cell carcinoma

When radiation therapy is used to treat basal cell carcinoma and other skin cancers, the rays are focused from a machine onto the tumor – this is known as "external radiotherapy." For skin cancers, low-energy X-rays or electron beam radiation – types of radiation that doesn’t go deeper than the skin – are administered.

When is radiation therapy used to treat basal cell carcinoma?

Surgery is often the primary treatment for basal cell carcinoma, but there are many situations in which radiation therapy may be a physician’s first recommendation. For instance, radiation therapy may be used when:

  • The tumor is very large
  • The tumor is in a location that makes surgery difficult
  • Patients can’t, or choose not to, undergo surgery

In addition, radiation therapy is sometimes used as an adjuvant therapy (additional therapy following another treatment) to destroy any remaining cancer cells following surgery. It may also be used to treat basal cell carcinoma that has spread.

What to expect from radiation therapy

The procedure for receiving radiation therapy is painless and is completed in a matter of minutes (although setting up will take longer). Sometimes, radiation therapy for basal cell carcinoma can cause side effects, but they typically only occur locally, in the area being treated. For example, side effects might include skin irritation, changes in skin color, or hair loss around the area receiving the treatment. Side effects may be exacerbated with longer treatment.

For more information about how radiation therapy can be used for treating basal cell carcinoma, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online to consult with an oncologist specializing in skin cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center.