One of our greatest responsibilities at Vanguard Skin Specialists is the detection and treatment of skin cancer. While all skin cancers should be taken seriously, treatment options do vary depending on their type and severity. For many cases, Mohs Micrographic Surgery offers the best cure rate. For others, liquid nitrogen may be applied as a spot treatment to target specific areas of cancer growth. For others still—especially superficial skin cancers and precancerous moles—the application of chemotherapy cream can be used to treat a wide surface area, lessening the need for surgery and preventing the formation of abnormal lesions.
What is Efudex (5-Fluorouracil)?
Efudex chemotherapy cream is a topical prescription medication that is typically applied 1 to 2 times a day over the course of a few weeks to either actively kill skin cancer cells or prevent the formation of skin cancers caused by certain conditions such as actinic keratosis. Early-stage basal and squamous cell skin cancers also tend to react favorably to this treatment.
How it Works
Chemotherapy cream works by penetrating the outermost layers of the skin. Because the body has difficulty absorbing this topical ointment into the deep layers of the skin, its side effects are far less severe than intravenous chemotherapy and include peeling, irritation, swelling, itching, and tenderness (side effects similar to those caused by chemical peels, which are used to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.) In fact, one of the superficial benefits of chemotherapy cream is that the skin appears smoother and younger-looking following treatment.
Unlike surgical removal, chemotherapy cream is particularly useful for treating wide areas of the skin. As Megan Stimpson, PA-C explains, “We often recommend field treatment or a chemotherapy cream for individuals who have larger areas on their skin with more extensive sun damage, numerous or recurrent precancers, or areas where they have previously had skin cancer.”
Megan goes on to explain that while some side effects are common, the cream aids the body’s natural defenses: “While the chemotherapy creams can cause temporary irritation to the skin, causing a rash-like eruption during their short-term use, this reaction tells us the immune system is actively working to clear out these precancerous areas, even bringing some lesions to the surface that aren’t visible to the naked eye. While there may be short-term redness, itching, scabbing, or mild discomfort, the long-term gains are huge in helping prevent and slow down the progression of precancers and cancers.”
Is Chemotherapy Cream the Right Treatment Option for You?
If you have either been diagnosed with skin cancer or have been determined to be at a high risk of developing skin cancer, this is a question you won’t have to face alone.
As a board-certified dermatologist and fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon, Dr. Vinh Chung has been treating skin cancer, in all its forms and varieties, for many years. As he writes, “Depending on the type of skin cancer, non-surgical options may be appropriate. If the skin cancer is superficial, then we treat with Efudex (5-fluorouracil), which is a type of chemotherapy treatment. Some skin cancers that have a deeper component may require surgery to achieve an adequate cure rate.”
Dr. Chung goes on to explain why this treatment can be advantageous for many patients: “The chemotherapy cream has the advantage of treating an entire ‘field.’ When we treat a spot with liquid nitrogen, we are treating only the spots that are visibly apparent or can be felt. When we treat with chemotherapy cream, we treat the entire area, even the early lesions that have not popped up. After the treatment, the patient’s skin will feel smoother and about 10 to 15 years younger.”
Addressing the merit of this topical treatment, Dr. Chung states, “Treating with a chemotherapy cream will cause discomfort, but it is an investment. The precancerous lesions (actinic keratosis) have a chance of developing into a skin cancer. By treating an entire area, we are hoping to prevent [the need for] a surgery. It’s painful, but it’s worth it.”
Schedule Your Consultation Today
If you have any questions about skin cancer treatments or if you would like to schedule a full-body skin cancer screening, contact Vanguard Skin Specialists at (719) 355-1585. Vanguard’s dermatologists and dermatology advanced practitioners take care of patients throughout southern Colorado. They have dermatology offices in Canon City, Castle Rock, Colorado Springs, La Junta, Parker, Pueblo, and Woodland Park.