Radiation Therapy for Basal & Squamous Cell Skin Cancers

NYU Langone doctors may use radiation therapy, energy beams that penetrate the skin, to destroy nonmelanoma cancer cells. This treatment may be an option for people who cannot undergo surgery due to poor overall health.

Physicians can also use radiation to target areas of the body where lymph nodes—immune system glands where skin cancers may first spread—were surgically removed. This helps destroy any remaining cancer cells.

Radiation Treatment Planning

Our radiation oncologists perform CT scans—which use X-rays and a computer to create three-dimensional, cross-sectional images—of the tumor or the area where cancerous lymph nodes were removed. They use special software to create a customized treatment plan. 

Our physicians may also use frequent CT scans during your treatments to ensure that radiation therapy is delivered to the treatment area, sparing healthy tissue.

External Beam Radiation Therapy

NYU Langone doctors use external beam radiation therapy, which is delivered to the tumor site using a machine called a linear accelerator. This machine rotates around you to treat the entire tumor during therapy. 

The treatment is usually broken into many small doses, or fractions, over time. It is delivered once a day, five days a week, for several weeks. Breaking the radiation into fractions enables doctors to deliver enough therapy to treat cancer cells effectively while minimizing the amount that affects healthy tissue.

Electron Beam Radiation Therapy

Doctors use electron beam therapy to treat skin cancer in people who cannot undergo surgery. It is also used to destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery. During this treatment, doctors deliver beams of tiny particles called electrons that do not penetrate below the skin where it could damage healthy tissue and organs. 

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy 

Intensity modulated radiation therapy is a highly targeted form of treatment that helps doctors avoid surrounding healthy tissue. It’s used to treat cancerous lymph nodes in people who aren’t candidates for surgery or in areas where lymph nodes were removed after surgery. 

The radiation is delivered from different directions and is broken into many small, computer-controlled beams of different adjustable strengths. Together, these “minibeams” are sculpted in three dimensions to conform to the size, shape, and location of the area of tissue being targeted.

Managing Side Effects

Your team of NYU Langone doctors can carefully plan your radiation therapy to minimize side effects, which include fatigue, nausea, and irritated skin. Doctors may prescribe medications or recommend supportive and integrative services to manage your side effects.