What is topical immunotherapy for skin cancer?

Immunotherapy is the name given to cancer treatments that use the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. An immunotherapy cream called imiquimod (Aldara®) stimulates the immune system and may be used to treat some small, thin basal cell carinomas or Bowen’s disease. It’s usually used in areas where surgery may be difficult or for people who have more than one tumour.

You’ll be given the cream to take home and asked to apply it once a day for a number of weeks. Some redness or crusting of the skin occurs during the treatment, but there should be no permanent scarring. If the skin reaction is very strong, your doctor may give you a steroid cream to use as well. Occasionally, the immunotherapy cream may cause shivers and other flu-like symptoms. If this is the case, let your doctor or specialist nurse know as they may advise you to stop using it.

Your hospital team can give you more detailed instructions on how to use your immunotherapy cream and how to manage any side effects.

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Photodynamic therapy

PDT uses light sources and a light-sensitive drug to destroy cancer cells. It’s used for some cancers and some pre-cancerous conditions.