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Why Is Topical Chemotherapy Used On Some Skin Cancers?

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If you've been diagnosed with skin cancer, then your oncologist will choose a treatment that matches the type of cancer you have, its spread, and its severity. While some skin cancers require surgery or regular chemotherapy treatments, some need local treatments such as topical chemotherapy.

What is topical chemotherapy and why is it your oncologist's treatment of choice? What can you expect from your course of treatment?

What Is Topical Chemotherapy?

Topical chemotherapy works on the same principle as regular chemotherapy treatments. Here, your medical team uses a special formulation of drugs to target and kill your cancer cells. However, you use topical treatments in a different way; you don't take them orally, or via injection or IV drips.

Topical chemotherapy typically comes as a cream, ointment, or lotion. You rub the treatment into the skin on and around the cancerous area. The skin absorbs the chemotherapy drugs, and they then kill cancerous cells in the area.

Why Has Your Oncologist Prescribed Topical Chemotherapy?

Like any chemotherapy, a topical treatment is effective at killing cancerous cells. The lotion, ointment, or cream you use can attack the cancer site and affected cells around it when it is absorbed into the skin.

However, topical treatments don't work outside of the area of application. While a standard chemotherapy treatment can target cancerous cells in all parts of the body, topical treatments only work locally.

For this reason, patients usually get this treatment when their skin cancer has been caught early and is very superficial. The cancer won't have spread anywhere else in the body. Sometimes, doctors prescribe a topical treatment course for pre-cancerous skin conditions such as actinic keratosis.

Topical chemotherapy is strong and effective enough to deal with these conditions and to treat your skin cancer. If you don't need a more widespread and invasive treatment, then this is a commonly used solution.

What Do You Need to Know About a Topical Chemotherapy Treatment?

Topical chemotherapy doesn't have the same side effects as regular chemotherapy treatments. So, for example, you shouldn't suffer from nausea, fatigue, or hair loss.

The skin around your cancer site might feel sore and sensitive during your treatment period. It will look quite red. Due to its sensitivity and the effects of the chemotherapy, your skin will be more prone to burning in the sun, so you'll be advised to keep the site protected or out of the sun when you are outdoors on hot days.

To find out more about topical chemotherapy, talk to your cancer treatment center.