Fluorouracil (5-FU) for Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer
How It Works
Fluorouracil (5-FU) is an anticancer medicine that works by slowing or stopping cell growth. The medicine interferes with the ability of abnormal cells to grow on the skin's top layer.
5-FU is usually applied once or twice daily for several weeks. It works by causing a painful irritation in actinic keratosis or a skin cancer. Successful treatment results in the specific areas of diseased skin becoming inflamed and crusting as the abnormal cells die.
Why It Is Used
5-FU cream or solution is used to treat actinic keratosis and basal cell carcinomas that are superficial (only in the top layer of skin). It can also be used to treat some squamous cell carcinomas in the eye.1
How Well It Works
This medicine works well for treating superficial actinic keratosis.2 If you have superficial basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma in situ and surgery is not possible, your doctor may suggest treatment with 5-FU cream.
Studies show a clearance rate of 90% when 5-FU cream is used to treat superficial basal cell carcinoma and 27% to 85% when this cream is used to treat squamous cell carcinoma in situ.3 Treatment with 5-FU does not usually cause scarring.
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Stop using this medicine and call your doctor right away if you have:
Common side effects of this medicine include:
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Applying 5-FU on skin almost always causes pain and a burning feeling. This may make it hard to tell if you are having an allergic reaction to the medicine or if the medicine is working as expected.
Your skin may be sensitive to sunlight during your treatment with 5-FU. So you will need to protect your skin from the sun.
People treated with 5-FU will need to have regular follow-up visits with their doctors to make sure the skin cancer is gone.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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