What is topical chemotherapy for skin cancer?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. Topical chemotherapy is a cream or lotion applied directly to the skin cancer. Usually a drug called 5-fluorouracil (Efudix®), often called 5FU, is used. You’ll be asked to put the cream on at home. Your doctor or specialist nurse will explain how to do this.

The chemotherapy cream is applied once or twice a day for a number of weeks. If possible, a waterproof dressing should be put over the cream once it has been applied. However, it can be difficult to put a dressing on some areas of the body.

The treatment should make the skin red and inflamed. Once the area becomes sore and weepy, the treatment will be stopped. Your doctor can prescribe a steroid cream to reduce the inflammation if it’s very sore. The skin will take a week or two to heal after treatment finishes.

Exposure to the sun can make the inflammation worse, so you should protect the area until it has healed. Usually there are no other side effects with this type of chemotherapy.

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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.