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Non-melanoma skin cancer

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Chemotherapy for non-melanoma skin cancer

Chemotherapy is sometimes used to treat non-melanoma skin cancer.

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to treat cancer. It can be a topical therapy applied to the skin or a systemic therapysystemic therapyTreatment that travels through the bloodstream to reach cells all over the body. that circulates throughout the body and destroys cancer cells, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour.

Chemotherapy may be used:

  • as a topical treatment to destroy precancerous cells and superficial tumours
  • rarely as a systemic therapy to relieve pain or to control the symptoms of advanced non-melanoma skin cancer (palliative chemotherapy)

Drugs, doses and schedules vary from person to person.

Types of chemotherapy


The most common topical chemotherapy drug used to treat non-melanoma skin cancer is:

  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Efudex)
    • This drug is only used for precancerous conditions and very superficial tumours.
    • It can only treat surface cancer cells because it cannot reach cancer cells in the deeper layers of skin.
    • This drug is applied directly to the tumour in the form of a cream.
    • It can also be injected directly into the tumour (intralesional chemotherapy).
    • It is applied daily for several weeks.


The most common systemic chemotherapy drugs used to treat non-melanoma skin cancer are:

  • cisplatin (Platinol AQ)
  • doxorubicin (Adriamycin)
  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Adrucil)
  • mitomycin (Mutamycin)

The most common systemic chemotherapy combinations used to treat non-melanoma skin cancer are:

  • cisplatin (Platinol AQ) and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Adrucil)
  • cisplatin (Platinol AQ) and doxorubicin (Adriamycin)

These chemotherapy drugs are given intravenously, usually on a 3-week cycle.

For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about chemotherapy.


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