Taking Aim at Complex Skin Cancers

By Julie Grisham,

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dermatologist Kishwer Nehal (left) and surgeon Bhuvanesh Singh

Most nonmelanoma skin cancers are easy to treat, but some require more complicated treatments from a multidisciplinary team. Our program ensures that specialists work together to develop the best treatment plan for each patient.

  • Skin cancers are the most common cancers in the world.
  • Some skin cancers require complex treatments, especially those on the face.
  • Coordinated care ensures that patients get the treatments they need.
  • Research will lead to better ways to prevent and treat these cancers.

Skin cancers are the most common cancers in the world. In fact, these cases outnumber all other types of cancer combined.

Most skin cancers are easily treatable, but a significant portion of them are more complicated, requiring treatments from multiple physicians in a variety of specialties. Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Multidisciplinary Skin Cancer Management Program, headed by surgeon Bhuvanesh Singh and dermatologist Kishwer Nehal, launched last fall to meet this need.

“There have been many efforts to develop better treatments for melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer,” Dr. Singh explains. “But we believe that much more can be done to create new treatments for complex nonmelanoma skin cancers.”

“As we began to see more patients with these cancers,” Dr. Nehal adds, “we realized we could significantly improve the care that we were providing.”

Coordinating Patient Care

One important aspect of the program is coordinated care, which makes it simpler for patients to see multiple specialists on the same day. This approach also ensures that all members of the team work together to develop the best treatment plan for each patient. “We hope this program will provide more streamlined, outcome-oriented care in the short term and new and better options for care in the long term,” Dr. Nehal says.

Coordinated care ensures that each patient gets the best treatment possible.

People who might consider the new program include those with larger tumors or tumors in critical areas, such as on the face, which often require reconstructive surgery after the tumor is removed. “Reconstruction is important not only for restoring facial form and function but also for greatly improving patient quality of life,” says plastic surgeon Evan Matros, another member of the program.

The team also includes an ophthalmologic surgeon, for patients who may have skin tumors close to their eyes. Those with skin cancer that has spread to lymph nodes or other sites in the body may also benefit.

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The Best Treatment Approach

The program is focused on ensuring the best outcome for patients: cure whenever possible, as well as the best cosmetic and functional results. Our experts use advanced imaging technologies to enhance the diagnosis and management of disease, and also offer expertise in reconstructive surgery and a number of different surgical and nonsurgical treatments.

“Our program is made possible by the expertise of many of the specialists at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and this allows us to implement unique multidisciplinary treatment plans for patients with complex skin cancers,” says radiation oncologist Christopher Barker, who specializes in radiation therapy for skin cancers.

Advanced technologies enhance the diagnosis and management of skin cancer.

The group now includes 41 physicians with specialties in radiology, radiation oncology, surgery, and medical oncology, among others. The program is currently available only in Manhattan, but there are plans to expand it to some of MSK’s suburban outpatient sites.

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A Focus on Research

As part of its research emphasis, the MSK team will be collaborating with cell biologist Elaine Fuchs at The Rockefeller University to learn more about the genetic changes that cause normal skin cells to turn cancerous.

This is just the beginning of what the program hopes to achieve, Drs. Singh and Nehal conclude. “We plan to parallel the improvements in treatment that have been made for many other types of cancer. We think our research program will help us discover new ways to both prevent and treat these cancers,” Dr. Singh says.

Learn more about our Multidisciplinary Skin Cancer Management Program.

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How come no one mentions Merkel Cell when they talk about skin cancer. Isn't MCC more deadly than melanoma? My husband lost his battle to MCC and we need to raise awareness about this horrible cancer. BTW, Dr Barker is wonderful.

We are so sorry for your loss. We agree awareness is important. Thank you for your comment.

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