5 Innovative Ways Doctors Treat Skin Cancer
From full-body photographs to topical creams, these are the skin cancer treatment options available in Canada.
Over 80,000 Canadians are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. Here are some of the newest, most innovative treatments for skin cancer and pre-cancer.
AI Mole mapping
This screening method involves taking full-body photographs of a patient’s skin annually, then using computer software with AI-assisted monitoring to compare the images and zero in on moles. “This would be beneficial for patients with tons of abnormal-looking moles, so it’s hard to follow them clinically,” says Lynne Robertson, program director of the Dermatology Residency at the University of Calgary. Mole mapping is also useful for patients who have had multiple melanomas, those with familial melanoma or those who have mutations that increase melanoma risk. Because this AI is mostly used on fair-skinned patients who are at higher risk for skin cancer, there is not enough data for these tools to work well for patients of colour, says Sunil Kalia, national chair of the Sun Awareness Working Group at the Canadian Dermatology Association and an associate professor at UBC.
Vitamin B3 (niacinamide)
Doctors recommend that patients with numerous pre-cancers, or those with a history of basal cell or squamous cell cancers, take 500 mg of vitamin B3 twice a day. “It’s been shown to decrease the number of actinic keratoses [pre-cancers], basal cell cancers and squamous cell cancers by between 13 and 23 percent after a year of use,” says Robertson.
Pre-cancers can now be removed in a less invasive way, with prescription creams such as 5-fluorouracil, which is a topical chemotherapy, or imiquimod, which is a topical immunotherapy, applied over a few weeks. These creams are also used off-label for certain types of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, says Alex Kuritzky, a Vancouver dermatologist.
This office-based therapy can be an alternative to surgery for a select group of patients with some cancers. Light energy is combined with a photosensitizing drug to kill pre-cancers, some basal cell cancers and squamous cell carcinoma in situ (also known as Bowen’s disease).
Immunotherapy and checkpoint inhibitors
These therapies treat advanced melanoma by helping a patient’s immune system attack the cancer cells. The patient will either be given an orally ingested pill or an intravenous infusion. “We now try to find what type of mutation is in the melanoma,” says Robertson. “It’s becoming a very personalized medicine.”