Topical treatments for skin cancer

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There are many different options for the treatment of skin cancer. These include surgical options such as excision and Mohs surgery, but can also include non-surgical options such as laser surgery, cryotherapy, photodynamic therapy, immune response modifiers, chemical peels, and topical chemotherapy.

In general, these non-surgical modalities have a lower cure rate and higher recurrence rate following treatment compared with surgical treatments. The best treatment for your particular cancer depends on your risk factors, the cancer subtype and location, and any other medical issues you may have.

What Topical Treatments are Available for Skin Cancer?

5-fluorouracil is a topical medication that is most frequently used for the treatment of actinic keratosis, or pre-cancers, on the skin. This topical cream is also FDA approved for superficial basal cell carcinomas.

5-fluorouracil works by killing tumor cells when applied directly onto the skin. It does not spread throughout the body, but can make the treated skin irritated, red, crusty and sensitive. The treatment can also make the skin more sensitive to the sun and precautions should be taken to prevent burns to the treated area.

Imiquimod is another topical medication that can be used to treat actinic keratoses and superficial basal cell cancers. Imiquimod modulates the immune system to fight off abnormal cells on the skin.

What are the Risks of Topical Skin Cancer Treatments?

Topical medications for skin cancer are typically reserved for select cases. This is due to the higher rate of recurrence.

Other risk factors for topical skin cancer treatments include:

  • redness and irritation at the treatment site
  • increased skin sensitivity
  • flu-like symptoms
  • crusty skin texture at the treatment site

Your specific treatment regimen will vary depending on your specific diagnosis and care needs. Our skin cancer experts at Skin and Beauty Center will walk you through everything you need to know and answer any questions you may have.

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