A topical skin cream may be an option when a patient has very superficial melanoma on their head or neck and/or when surgery may not be possible.
Doctors may use a prescription skin cream that is very effective for certain subtypes of melanoma, particularly melanoma in situ, which involves the top layer of the skin (epidermis).
A prescription skin cream is an option for:
- Melanoma in situ on the face, head or neck on an area that is not feasible for surgery, or where the surgical margins are too indistinct to know whether the melanoma is removed on pathology
- As an additional treatment after surgery has removed all or most of the melanoma
Types of topical skin cream
Imiquimod is a prescription drug that is put on the skin as a cream that can stimulate a local immune response against skin cancer cells. For very early melanomas (mainly melanoma in situ) in sensitive areas on the face, some doctors may use this treatment if surgery might be disfiguring or cannot otherwise be performed. It can also be used after surgery, especially if the dermatopathologist can’t tell if the cells at the edge of the specimen represent melanoma or sun-damaged pigment cells.
Potential side effects of topical skin cream for melanoma
People using a prescription drug cream for melanoma may get skin reactions where the cream is used or around the area. An inflammatory response is expected when the cream is used to treat superficial melanoma of the skin and often means the topical therapy is working. These reactions may include burning, crusting, dryness, flaking, itching, oozing, pain, redness, sores or ulcers, or swelling. Scarring or permanent pigment change from the cream is very unusual.
Because the cream tends to cause skin symptoms, your doctor will monitor your response and any side effects closely when you are on the medication.
Call your doctor right away if you have a skin reaction that bothers you or if the reaction makes it hard to keep using the cream. Call your doctor right away if you have a skin reaction that causes problems with daily living.
Published November 2018
Stanford Health Care © 2018