Skin Cancer (Non-Melanoma): Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2018

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about non-melanoma skin cancer and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about non-melanoma skin cancer/keratinocyte carcinoma and Merkel cell cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with these diseases. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you. 

  • EGFR inhibitors for advanced or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma. A tumor protein known as the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) causes many squamous cell carcinomas to grow out of control. Several clinical trials are investigating whether combining radiation therapy with drugs that inhibit EGFR can help treat advanced or metastatic disease.

  • Additional hedgehog pathway inhibitors for advanced basal cell carcinoma. Researchers are developing new hedgehog pathway inhibitors to treat advanced basal cell carcinoma that cannot be treated with surgery or radiation therapy.

  • Combining hedgehog pathway inhibitors with other therapies. Researchers are testing whether combining hedgehog inhibitors with other treatments, such as surgery and radiation therapy, would be helpful in treating basal cell carcinomas that are difficult to cure.

  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve, target, or restore immune system function. Immunotherapies are currently approved by the FDA for the treatment of other cancers, including melanoma and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, but are being actively studied for certain non-melanoma skin cancers, including Merkel cell cancer. These medications are usually given through a vein, and their beneficial effects can last a long time. 

  • Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV). As described in Risk Factors, MCV is present in most but not all Merkel cell cancer tumors. Researchers continue to investigate the link between this common virus and this uncommon type of tumor, including whether the presence or absence of the virus in a tumor could result in different treatment approaches.

  • Palliative care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current skin cancer treatments to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding non-melanoma skin cancer, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide: 

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. You may use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.