Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. Immunotherapy cream can be used to treat some small skin cancers.

What is immunotherapy cream?

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. Doctors may use it to treat some small, superficial basal cell carcinomas (BCCs). It is usually used in areas where surgery may be difficult or for people who have more than one cancer.

Using immunotherapy cream for skin cancer

Your doctor or nurse will give you the cream to put on at home. They, or a pharmacist, will explain how to apply it and how often to use it. You usually apply the cream once a day, 5 days a week. This is usually for 6 weeks.

Some redness or crusting of the skin usually 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 help.

Some people may feel a burning or tender feeling in the area being treated. This is most common at the start of treatment. Occasionally, the immunotherapy cream causes shivers and other flu-like symptoms. If this is the case, tell your doctor or specialist nurse, as they may advise you to stop using it.

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

We have more general information about immunotherapy

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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