Short-Course Radiation Treatment is Safe and Effective for Skin Cancer


Source: Pennsylvania State University

Summary: A recent study review suggests that shorter courses of radiation are preferable to longer ones for older patients receiving treatment for slow-growing skin cancers.


Skin basal and squamous cell cancers are common among patients over 60 years old and are rarely fatal. These cancers look like moles, freckles or skin tags which can easily be removed surgically but in some cases, radiation therapy is preferred. Doctors often recommend radiation when these cancers appear in areas such as near the eyes, ears, nose or lips, or in patients on blood thinners or with other health problems that rule out surgery. A recent study review by the researchers from the Pennsylvania State University suggests that shorter courses of radiation are preferable to longer ones for older patients receiving treatment for slow-growing skin cancers. The study findings were published in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology.

Skin Caner treatment is effective with short course radiation treatments

Credit: Pennsylvania State University

In a new systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers looked at 21 international studies of radiation treatment for slow-growing skin cancers published between 1986 and 2016. The studies included almost 10,000 patients aged 62 to 84 years old who were followed up for anywhere from a year to more than six years after their therapy ended. The most common types of long-term skin damage reported across the studies were discoloration and the appearance of spider veins. Skin cancer recurrence at the same site was rare among all the regimens, and there were no deaths related to the treatments. Based on this, the researchers recommend short courses of five, seven or 15 treatments, all adding up to around the same amount of total radiation exposure for patients over 70 years old.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Nicholas G. Zaorsky said, “The takeaway is that most elderly patients, and most patients with skin cancer, can get a short course of radiation – just a few treatments – instead of coming in for radiation almost every day for six weeks, and the cosmetic result will be just as good.”


More Information: Nicholas G. Zaorsky et al. Skin CanceR Brachytherapy vs External beam radiation therapy (SCRiBE) meta-analysis, Radiotherapy and Oncology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.radonc.2017.12.029


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