Chemotherapy and surgery are the two more common types of treatment for skin cancer, however topical chemotherapy is a new option for some patients. This treatment consists of a lotion that patients apply to the affected areas of their skin.
Topical chemotherapy is available in a cream or lotion form and goes by several names, including Efudex, Cara and Aldara. Applying the medicated cream is similar to applying any type of lotion or moisturizer. The patient typically applies a thick layer of the cream to the affected areas and rubs the cream into the skin. Skin cancer dermatologists recommend that patients place a bandage over the cream, especially if the patient plans to shower later or spend any time outside. Patients will usually apply the cream at least two times every day for several weeks or until inflammation occurs.
Topical creams of this type are suitable for multiple types of cancers including actinic keratosis and superficial basal cell carcinoma. Some topical creams are able to offer some benefits to patients suffering from melanoma in-situ and Bowen's carcinoma in-situ. Your medical dermatologist will usually go over the benefits and potential side effects of the lotion before giving you a prescription for the medication.
Topical chemotherapy isn't suitable for all areas of the body, and some patients find that covering the cream is difficult. Depending on the severity of the cancer, or if the cancer spread to other parts of the body, the cream will not work effectively.
The most common side effect experienced by our Orange County patients is pain. It typically causes pain and inflammation for several weeks, but the dermatologist will give the patient some painkillers and steroids to combat those effects. A large number of patients often experience an itching sensation when using the cream that can later become a burning sensation. More than 30 percent of all patients using these creams also suffer from dry skin that goes away after they discontinue the cream.
Traditional chemotherapy uses radiation to eradicate cancerous cells in the body. Topical creams use ingredients that kill those cancerous cells. Most patients know the lotion works when they see swelling in the affected area. The lotions and creams are effective in 80-90 percent of patients who have skin cancer that does not affect any other part of the body. It's important that patients talk to their medical dermatologists about the risk factors and potential side effects of the cream and carefully compare topical treatments to traditional chemotherapy when choosing a treatment plan for their skin cancer.
Contact our certified dermatologists, at any one of our Orange County dermatology centers, to learn more about topical chemotherapy as a skin cancer treatment.