What is Topical Chemotherapy
Used to fight different types of skin cancers, topical chemotherapy is less technical and invasive than other types of chemotherapy. Topical chemotherapy is administered to the skin directly, eliminating the need for the rest of the body to endure the exposure of the treatment. There are two main types of topical chemotherapy drugs.
Two Important Cancer-Killing Topically Applied Drugs
The two most commonly used 5-fluorouracil creams, Efudex and Carac, actually kill cancerous cells. These creams are applied directly to the lesion twice daily. The length of time for treatment with these creams depends on what is being treated. If it is being used to treat your skin for actinic or solar keratoses, then treatment can last from 2 weeks to a month. Make sure to inform your doctor when the lesions become flaky and begin peeling. Your individual case will be evaluated, but the healing process can take a couple more months after the creams are no longer being applied. If you are using Efudex or Carac for basal cell carcinoma, treatment can take up to three months, and should not be stopped unless the side effects become problematic.
The other cream, Aldara, or Imiquimod, is used to treat cancerous growths on the skin and scalp, in addition to genital warts, which is actually a form of cancer that is caused by the Herpes virus, through its immune response modification. This medication boosts your body’s immune response so it fights the cancerous growths more effectively.
When used to treat keratoses, it is applied twice a week, with about half a week in between applications. Typical treatment lasts for four months. When used for the treatment of superficial basal cell carcinoma, application is typically done five consecutive days, and then the skin is left alone for two days. Treatment can last up to two months. For both keratoses and basal cell carcinomas, he cream is left on the skin for about eight hours, then washed off.
Aldara is also used for two other types of skin cancer, Bowen’s carcinoma in-situ and melanoma in-situ. When used for genital lesions and warts caused by the Herpes virus, the application is very other day. It is not to be used internally. Cryosurgery may be prescribed for those areas instead. The cream is washed off after five to 10 hours, depending on your doctor’s prescription.
As with any medication, you should always ask if you have any questions about the medication you are taking, side effects you experience, or anything else you would like to know or understand better. At OC Skin Institute, we want to help you, and patient education is one of our goals. You should call us whenever you have a concern about your skin’s health.
What Are My Options .. And What’s the Cost of Using Topical Chemotherapy?
During a consultation with your doctor, you will be told of your case’s chances of being resolved with topical chemotherapy. Some cases are too far advanced for topical treatment alone and must be combined with other measures. Because treatment is done by the individual at home with constant visits to the office during which the doctor evaluates the progress, patients must be attentive during the consultation.
Patient education is extremely important to the effectiveness of any treatment, and this is no different. After treatment begins, the doctor will adjust the medication’s frequency if needed in order to reduce side effects or to better achieve the desired result. Total time to treat lasts from two to 12 weeks for keratoses, and from six to 12 weeks for carcinomas. The monetary cost of Aldara when not covered by insurance is about $600 for treatment, plus office visits. The other creams, Efudex and Carac, are considerably less, running about $100, plus the cost of office visits.
Common Side Effects of Topical Chemotherapy
The following are normal reactions that may result from treatment:
- Itching and flaking skin
- Scabbing, including small open sores that do not heal quickly
Flu-like symptoms that go away when treatment stops is common. Some people have more severe reactions that can include oozing, crusting patches with some people experiencing more severe ulcerations. The severe redness from treatment may last for several weeks after treatment has ended. This redness may be unsightly but always goes away on its own.
Is Topical Chemotherapy Effective?
Like any other chemotherapy, topical application of these creams can be effective, but no cure has been found that is 100 percent effective. It is impossible to predict with certainty the outcome for any patient, but cure rates are high, and are between 80 and 90 percent.
With some people, the ineffectiveness is shown quite early in the treatment by lack of an irritated response in the skin. In those cases, a different approach can be arranged. Call us today at OC Skin Institute and we will help you start immediately in protecting and healing your skin.