What is topical medication for skin cancer?

Topical medication, also known as topical chemotherapy, is a type of skin cancer treatment where medication in the form of a cream or ointment is applied directly to the skin. The goal is to kill the cancerous cells over a period of time.

Who is a candidate for topical medication?

If you have a basal or squamous cell carcinoma that has not spread to the lymph nodes, your doctor may recommend topical chemotherapy for treatment.
If you are a candidate for topical chemotherapy, your Mercy Health doctor will evaluate your case and recommend a treatment plan.

Side effects or complications associated with topical medication for skin cancer

Disadvantages of using topical medications for skin cancer include:

  • Irritation at the treatment site that can last weeks or months after treatment concludes
  • Topical medication is not an option for all types of skin cancers
  • Duration of treatment could last as long as a few months
  • You must apply the medication daily
  • You must avoid direct sunlight or exposure to UV rays during the entire treatment period

Advantages of using topical medication to treat skin cancer

There are several advantages of using topical medication to treat skin cancer or precancerous lesions. Advantages include:

  • Minimal scarring
  • Aesthetically appealing
  • Convenient treatment option 

What to expect during topical medication skin cancer treatment

What you can expect during skin cancer treatment with topical medications varies based on which medication you have been prescribed. Typically, it is a long process.

There are a variety of medications that your doctor may prescribe including:

  • Aldara is a cream that is used to treat small basal cell cancers by stimulating the immune system. This drug must be used for six to 12 weeks to be effective. 
  • Topical fluorouracil is used to treat thin basal cell carcinomas. It should be used for up to six weeks and needs to be applied twice daily.
  • Solaraze, a gel that is used to treat actinic keratosis, is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication that needs to be used for three or more months. This medication is less likely to cause severe skin reactions but takes longer to be effective.
  • Picato is a gel that is used to treat actinic keratosis. This medication should be applied directly to the affected area of the skin for three days. Picato has been associated with moderate to severe skin reactions but the reactions typically subside within a week of treatment.

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