Topical Immunotherapy

What is topical immunotherapy?

Topical immunotherapy involves daily application of a special cream for up to several weeks as treatment for certain skin cancers and pre-cancerous lesions.   The cream stimulates the body’s own immune system to fight and destroy the skin cancer cells.  Typically the area will become moderately inflamed during the period of treatment.  Once the treatment is ceased this inflammation will subside and the skin usually returns to a near normal appearance. The degree of inflammation varies from patient to patient, and from lesion to lesion, and not uncommonly the frequency of application of the cream needs to be adjusted to achieve the desired degree of inflammation.  This will be determined in conjunction with your dermatologist.  Treatment can be confined to a single lesion or administered over a broader area.  In addition to treating skin cancers, topical immunotherapy is also used for other skin disorders including certain types of viral warts and other viral skin infections.

Which skin cancers and patients are best suited to topical immunotherapy?

Topical immunotherapy is used for treating mostly superficial and low-grade skin cancers. Examples include superficial BCC’s and lesions of Bowen’s disease (superficial SCC).  It is particularly useful if the lesion is broad and therefore surgery would result in a large excision and possible scar.  It is not suitable for more advanced or deeper skin cancers as it is unable to successfully treat these more difficult lesions.  Because this techniques avoids the need for sutures it may be used in areas where sutures may not heal well, such as the legs.  It is less suited to body sites that are difficult to access and thus apply the cream, such as the back.  If the inflammation is well-controlled, the cosmetic result can be excellent.  It is a relatively inexpensive treatment and this is sometimes an important factor.  Treatment is relatively prolonged and the cure rate is not as high as other treatment options, such as surgery.

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