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Tests, Treatments and Therapies for Skin Cancer at the University of Colorado Cancer Center

No two people – or skin cancer cases – are alike. That's why we customize treatment to each individual patient.

As a world leader in cancer research, we’re committed to using the most minimally invasive approach possible for diagnosing and treating this disease. And your expert medical team will be with you every step of the way, from your first visit to your post-treatment follow-ups.

To partner with our team of experts and create your individual treatment plan, call (720) 848-0300 to make an appointment today.

Staging and Detection

Tests are only as good as the doctors who report and interpret them. At the CU Cancer Center, the physicians on your care team are the most highly-trained specialists in the state.

Once a cancer has been diagnosed, it is very important for doctors to find out where the cancer may have spread (the “stage” of the cancer) to determine the best possible treatment plan for you.

Tests and Procedures

Biopsy – All or part of the abnormal-looking growth is removed from the skin and viewed under a microscope by an expert skin pathologist to see if cancer cells are present.


CT scan (computed tomography) – An X-ray procedure that creates detailed, highly accurate cross-sectional body images.


Dermoscopy – A technique for viewing skin lesions to distinguish accurately between suspicious moles and other pigmented lesions. A drop of mineral oil is placed on the lesion to reduce light reflection and make the skin more translucent.


Epiluminescence microscopy – A technique in which the doctor can view the lesion down to the dermo-epidermal junction, the area where melanomas usually develop and that is not visible to the naked eye.


Excisional biopsy – A scalpel is used to remove the entire growth.


Mole Mapping – A valuable tool that helps determine which moles need to be removed. A full-body photograph is taken and analyzed digitally to identify mole locations and different features in order to rate a mole’s potential. These images also are used to detect new moles and subtle changes in existing moles from visit to visit.


Punch biopsy – A special instrument called a punch is used to remove a circle of tissue from the abnormal-looking growth.


Skin examination – A doctor or nurse checks the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.

Treatments & Therapies

Treatment for skin cancer varies greatly from person to person. Your medical team may use any combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or new immunotherapy to treat or control your cancer.


Depending on the location and severity of the skin cancer, different types of surgery may be used to remove it.


The surgeon removes the tumor and some normal tissue around it to make sure all the cancer cells are removed. Lymph nodes near the tumor may be removed because cancer can spread through the lymphatic system.


Cryosurgery – A treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue. It is also called cryotherapy.


Dermabrasion – Removal of the top layer of skin using a rotating wheel or small particles to rub away skin cells.


Electrodesiccation and curettage – The tumor is cut from the skin with a curette (a sharp, spoon-shaped tool). A needle-shaped electrode is then used to treat the area with an electric current that stops the bleeding and destroys cancer cells that remain around the edge of the wound. The process may be repeated one to three times during the surgery to remove all of the cancer.


Laser surgery – A surgical procedure that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) as a knife to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove a surface lesion such as a tumor.


Mohs micrographic surgery – The most precise method of removing skin cancer, the tumor is cut from the skin in thin layers. During surgery, the edges of the tumor and each layer of tumor removed are viewed through a microscope to check for cancer cells. Layers continue to be removed until no more cancer cells are seen. It is especially effective in treating cancers of the face and other cosmetically sensitive areas, because it can eliminate virtually all the cancer cell while causing minimal damage to the surrounding normal skin. It also is ideal for the removal of recurrent skin cancers.


Shave excision – The abnormal area is shaved off the surface of the skin with a small blade.


Simple excision – The tumor is cut from the skin along with some of the normal skin around it.


Chemotherapy involves using drugs to slow down, damage or kill cancer cells. The treatment may involve single drugs or combinations of drugs taken intravenously or by mouth.


Chemotherapy is often taken in cycles lasting three or four weeks. Your care team may also prescribe drugs and other treatments to reduce or eliminate the side effects associated with chemotherapy.

Radiation Therapy ("Radiotherapy")

Radiation therapy involves using X-rays and other types of medical radiation. Aimed at specific parts of the body, it is used to kill cancer cells, prevent cancer cells from developing or recurring, and improve many of the symptoms caused by cancer. It can be used together with chemotherapy for certain cancers (this is called “chemo-radiotherapy”).

Photodynamic Therapy

This treatment uses a drug and a certain type of laser light to kill cancer cells. A drug that is not active until it is exposed to light is injected into a vein. The drug collects more in cancer cells than in normal cells. For skin cancer, laser light is shined onto the skin to activate the drug, which then kills the cancer cells. Photodynamic therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue.

Clinical Trials

Your medical team may also recommend that you participate in a clinical trial.

University of Colorado Hospital conducts hundreds of clinical trials in an ongoing effort to discover and deliver more effective treatments. These trials may offer access to drugs, vaccines and new kinds of treatment years before they are widely available.

Other therapies being tested through clinical trials:

Biologic therapy (biotherapy or immunotherapy) – These are treatments that join with the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances – some made by the body, some made in a laboratory – help boost, direct or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer.

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