Superficial Radiation Therapy: What to Expect

Sep 18, 2023
 Superficial Radiation Therapy: What to Expect
Superficial radiation therapy painlessly destroys non-melanoma skin cancer cells without surgical excision. Here’s what you can expect from this noninvasive, highly effective treatment for BCC and SCC.

As the most common cancer in the United States, skin cancer affects millions of people. One in five Americans (20%) can expect to develop the disease by age 70. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most frequent skin cancer diagnosis, followed by squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). 

As board-certified dermatologists who offer a full scope of skin-sparing, life-saving treatment options at Florida Dermatology Associatesour skilled team of skin cancer experts is pleased to provide superficial radiation therapy (SRT), a targeted way to destroy non-melanoma skin cancer cells without having to resort to surgical excision.

We can use this noninvasive approach to cure small BCC and SCC cancers or to delay the growth of more advanced skin cancers. Here, we explain how SRT works and discuss what you can expect before, during, and after your treatment. 

How superficial radiation therapy works 

SRT is an advanced outpatient skin cancer treatment that uses painless, low-level radiation energy to target and kill non-melanoma cancer cells without surgical excision. Because the energy only penetrates to a depth of five millimeters, the treatment effectively destroys skin cancer cells without harming surrounding healthy tissues. SRT can treat:

Basal cell cancers

Located in the base layer of the skin, basal cell cancers tend to grow slowly. Although they rarely spread beyond their initial site, they can expand wide and deep, developing into a potentially disfiguring tumor.

Squamous cell cancers 

Squamous cell cancers, found in the outermost layer of skin, are less common than basal cell cancers — but more likely to grow and spread. 

SRT offers a way to destroy slow-growing skin cancer cells in a highly targeted way without the downtime or side effects associated with excision surgery. The treatment is so precise and gentle you can use it on sensitive areas like the eyelids, nose, face, and ears without fear of cosmetic damage or scarring.

What to expect through the SRT process

Getting superficial radiation treatment is much like getting a painless X-ray, but the radiation is aimed precisely at the cancer cells. Each treatment only lasts a few minutes, but the set-up time — or getting you into place for the treatment — takes longer.

Before SRT 

Before your first SRT visit, you have a treatment planning appointment with our team so we can determine the amount of radiation needed and exactly where you need it. We may mark the treatment area and take measurements and photographs; we may also trace the area to position you correctly each time you have treatment.

In some cases, we may also have lead shielding made for you to protect nearby areas from radiation. For example, if you have skin cancer on your nose, we might create a narrow strip of lead shielding to fit your nostril. 

During SRT 

During an SRT treatment, you may lie on an exam table, sit upright in a chair, or stand, depending on the area treated. Our team helps you get into position, applying any safety molds or shields you require. We refer to our preparatory measurements, photographs, and tracings to ensure correct positioning. 

Next, we place the superficial radiation machine applicators on or above the treatment area. The applicators remain in this position from start to finish. SRT is painless, but the skin area treated may feel warm. 

The treatment lasts a few minutes while our team heads outside the room (although we can still see and hear you). Once the preset treatment time has elapsed, we head back to remove your shielding, and you’re free to go.

After SRT

Depending on your skin cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, you may have just one SRT treatment or several sessions spread out over a few weeks or sessions every weekday for up to six weeks.

SRT side effects are usually limited to the treated area of the skin. These include:

  • Mild, temporary soreness 
  • Skin irritation and redness
  • Blistering or peeling skin
  • Skin that feels dry and itchy
  • Changed skin tone or color
  • Hair loss in the treated area

The longer your treatment protocol, the more likely you have side effects. While our team provides comprehensive information about skin care during and after SRT, it’s important to remember that the treated area is more sensitive to the sun during and after treatment.

It’s critical to keep the treated area out of the sun, or if you can’t, use sunscreen with a high SPF rating to protect your skin. Stick with gentle cleansers and moisturizers, pat your skin dry after you bathe, and avoid swimming throughout your treatment. 

Learn your skin cancer treatment options

If you’d like to learn more about SRT for skin cancer, we can help. Call your nearest Florida Dermatology Associates office in Palm Bay, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa, Melbourne, or Titusville, Florida, today, or click online to schedule an appointment any time.