Radiation is used to treat squamous cell carcinoma by focusing high-energy rays or particles onto the tumor to kill the cancerous cells, according to the American Cancer Society. Radiation can be used as the primary treatment or in conjunction with other surgeries.
When squamous cell skin cancer is on a large part of the skin that is difficult to treat with surgery, radiation is often used as the primary form of treatment. Physicians also use radiation therapy after surgery to kill remaining clusters of cancerous cells that were difficult to access during surgery. Radiation treatment is similar to getting an X-ray, but it uses focused and stronger radiation that directly targets cancerous cells, states the American Cancer Society. The treatment itself is pain-free and lasts just a few minutes, but the setup for the procedure usually takes longer. Radiation therapy often completely kills small basal and squamous skin cancer cell clusters and can be used to slow the growth of more progressed cancer.
Side effects of radiation therapy include skin irritation or redness, hair loss, or dry skin at the treatment site. These side effects can become worse with subsequent treatments, and in some cases, a new cancer can emerge at the site of radiation treatment, according to the American Cancer Society.