If you suspect that you have skin cancer, or if you have been diagnosed with it, you probably know that treatments such as surgery or radiation are available to effectively fight your cancer. However, did you know that there are several topical cancer medications that are just as effective yet don’t have the types of adverse side effects that you want to avoid?
The skin cancer treatment that works best for you depends on the size, location, and depth of the tumor as well as your age, overall health, and treatment goals. At West Dermatology, we are a world-renowned dermatological and skin cancer center committed to offering you the best, most effective treatment options available, including alternative skin cancer treatments. Learn more about us and schedule a skin cancer treatment consultation by calling 888-554-8740 or contacting us online.
What are Topical Cancer Medications?
Topical skin cancer treatments are applied directly to your skin in the form of a cream, ointment, or gel; they are also often prescribed in conjunction with other types of skin cancer treatment, such as surgery to remove a tumor. For certain non-melanoma cancers on the surface of your skin, topical chemotherapy creams are very effective, especially for squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and actinic keratoses.
Common Skin Cancer Topical Medications
Each topical medication fights your skin cancer in different ways:
One of the most common skin cancer topical medications is the fluorouracil cream 5-FU (popular brand names include Fluoroplex, Efudex, and Carac). 5-FU is a popular basal cell carcinoma treatment because it prevents cancerous cells from rapidly dividing and spreading to other parts of your body.
You can apply it to your skin yourself in the comfort of your own home one or two times a day for a few weeks. This fluorouracil cream kills malignant cells on or near the surface of your skin; however, it cannot reach either cancerous cells deep beneath your skin or those that have metastasized to other areas or organs of your body. Consequently, 5-FU is more useful for basal cell carcinoma or pre-cancerous actinic keratoses.
You can expect only a few side effects, such as redness, irritation, or inflammation around the treated area, which can last for several days or even a couple of weeks. Many patients report to us that they experience no discomfort whatsoever.
Finally, 5-FU tends to render your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so for a few weeks, you should make sure to protect any treated areas from the sun.
This medication is FDA approved only for superficial basal cell carcinoma treatment. IMQ is commonly chosen because it is part of a new class of topical skin cancer treatment that stimulates your immune system into destroying cancer cells by producing a chemical called interferon, which attacks your skin cancer with aggression.
You can also apply IMQ cream yourself; generally, you should apply it to your lesion(s) four to five times a week for about two months.
Side effects are localized and mild and include skin redness, irritation, and inflammation around the treated area.
To mitigate the side effects from both 5-FU and IMQ, we often recommend that you follow a so-called treatment cycle. This means that you rub in the medication 1-2 times a day for a certain number of days or weeks, then stop treatment for several days for your body to adjust. Once your rest period is up, you go back to applying the medication at the same frequency and for the same duration.
Advantages of Topical Cancer Medications Over Other Types
A major advantage of using skin cancer topical medications is that they usually cause less scarring than other treatment methods. Another advantage is that if precancerous cells are detected near the primary site of your cancerous lesion, the IMQ or fluorouracil cream can prevent them from becoming cancer.
In addition, treatment is convenient – you can apply it yourself in the comfort of you home instead of having to visit our office or a hospital. Lastly, since the drug is applied only to your skin, there’s no threat of spread throughout your body, which reduces the number and severity of side effects that whole-body chemotherapy can cause. Learn more about skin cancer medications at WebMD.com.
Disadvantages of Topical Cancer Medications
One disadvantage of these topical skin cancer treatments is your increased sensitivity to the sun. Another one is the discomfort that they can cause during hot summer months, which is why many doctors recommend that these medications be applied during cooler months with reduced humidity.
Additionally, the course of treatment can take weeks or months, which means you could endure skin redness, rawness, or inflammation throughout this period. Finally, with these medications, whether or not they have been successful is not always clear. Follow-ups with West Dermatology are necessary to determine the success of your treatment.
Find Information about Topical Cancer Medications
Although these topical skin cancer treatments are very effective, there are limitations to them. To know if these are the right treatment options for you, contact West Dermatology today for a consultation. We provide many different skin cancer treatment options, so contact us online or call 888-554-8740 to discuss your particular case.
Next, read about Cryotherapy.