Topical therapy for superficial skin cancers or pre-cancerous conditions is typically performed by dermatologists or primary care providers. There are two different types of topical therapy:
- Topical Chemotherapy
During cryotherapy, liquid nitrogen is applied to the affected area with a cotton tip applicator or spray device. The extremely cold liquid nitrogen will destroy the cells on the treated area. Unfortunately there is no good way to control how deep the tissue will be destroyed. As a result, recurrences are common and the skin may react with blisters, redness, permanent pigment changes, and scarring.
Chemotherapy is typically used to describe drug treatment for cancer. In most types of chemotherapy the drug is given inside the vein or orally. In treating skin cancer, one has the option of giving the drug topically. With topical chemotherapy, a very small amount of the drug is absorbed into the body and therefore there are fewer side effects. A drug called fluorouracil (5-FU) is used to treat basal cell and squamous cell cancers that are in the top layer of the skin only. This drug can elicit quite severe reactions on the skin and should typically be used under the direction of a dermatologist.
Another topical treatment is called Aldara or imiquimod (ih-MIH-kwee-mod). This drug improves the body's natural response to cancer, infections and other diseases related to the immune system. It can be used to treat early basal cell skin cancer and other conditions. Aldara belongs to the family of drugs called biological response modifiers. This drug can also elicit quite severe reactions on the skin and should typically be used under the direction of a dermatologist.