What is chemotherapy cream?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy cream or lotion can be applied directly onto the skin cancer. This is called topical chemotherapy.

Usually a drug called 5-fluorouracil (Efudix®), often called 5FU, is used to treat non-melanoma skin cancers. Your doctor or nurse will give you the cream to put on at home. Your doctor, nurse, or a pharmacist, will explain how to apply it.

Using chemotherapy cream for skin cancer

You apply the cream either once or twice a day. The area can usually be left uncovered. However, your doctor or nurse may advise you to cover the area with a waterproof dressing after putting on the cream. You should follow the instructions they give you.

The treatment should make the skin red and inflamed. Once the area becomes sore and weepy, the treatment will be stopped. This is usually after 3 to 4 weeks, depending on where it is on your body. It may be less if it is on your face, or longer for other areas. 

If the area is very sore, your doctor can prescribe a steroid cream to help.

After treatment

The skin usually takes 1 or 2 weeks to heal after you finish the treatment. But sometimes it can take longer.

Try to protect the treated area from the sun, as it can make the inflammation worse. Usually there are no other side effects with this type of chemotherapy.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our skin cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Motley et al. British Association of Dermatologists. Management of the patient with primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2009.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG12: Suspected cancer: recognition and referral. 2015 (updated 2017).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG134: Sunlight Exposure: Benefits and Risks. 2016.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). PH32: Skin Cancer Prevention. 2011 (updated 2016).

    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) 140. Management of primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2014.

    Telfar N et al. Guidelines for the management of basal cell carcinoma. British Journal of Haematology. 2008.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor James Larkin, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

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