Topical chemotherapy is used for the treatment of skin cancer. In this treatment chemotherapy is administered in the form of an ointment, lotion or a cream directly on the skin of the patients where the cancer is detected. This type of chemotherapy is a sharp contrast to the other conventional methods of chemotherapy that are administered orally or intravenously. The dosage, duration, cycle and the drugs used for this treatment is decided by your doctor.
Topical Chemotherapy Administration
Although chemotherapy is given in the form of local application, the purpose is the same: to destroy the cancer cells present in the upper layer of the skin (or for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer). The drug used in the treatment is fluorouracil or 5FU. Your oncologist might ask you to apply this cream twice a day for a few weeks. Initially, the nurse will apply it on your skin, and then show you how to do it at home. Some oncologists might recommend that after the application of this cream, a waterproof dressing should be applied on top of it. However, this is not possible for every part of the body.
A side effect of this application is that the skin can become sore or irritated or even red at the site. Some patients might experience bleeding at the site. In these cases, the treatment is stopped till the skin gets recovered, and then resumed again. Some drugs used in topical chemotherapy might also cause the skin to become dark (or hyper-pigmentation) at the site of application. The skin takes about a week or two to recover from the effect of chemotherapy ointment.
In rare cases, the other side effects that are possible by some drugs are the same as those that are associated with other cancer chemotherapy drugs like nausea and vomiting, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, mouth ulcers, fever or chills and so on. If you notice any unusual side effect, contact your doctor immediately.
Precautions for Patients undergoing Topical Chemotherapy
- The doctors might do a patch test before starting the treatment. This is usually done in order to find out if the patients are allergic to the drug.
- The patients undergoing this treatment need to avoid exposure to the sun as it may aggravate the side effects like soreness. If you need to go out, use an effective sun block.
- After the application of this drug, wash your hands with soap thoroughly.
- In case you are applying it near your mouth, eyes or nose you should do so very carefully.
- Patients who are breast feeding or planning to conceive should talk to their doctor before starting the treatment.
- If you have any allergies to any kind of medicine, food or any other kind of substances, you should inform your doctor prior to the treatment.
- Also, if you have any infection, or have low blood counts, your oncologist might ask you recuperate before commencing the treatment.
- Always ask your oncologist if you have to take any other drug or medicine during the treatment, as it may react with the drug.
The treatment with topical chemotherapy is limited to curing non-melanoma. The treatment of melanoma cannot be done using this method as the drug used can penetrate only the upper layer of the skin. 5 FU is also used in topical chemotherapy for the treatment for basal cell skin cancer and actinic keratoses, which is a pre cancerous condition. Topical chemotherapy has been found quite effective in patients and is very easy to apply. In case of deeper tumors, other treatments are given along with it.