Canadian Cancer Society logo

Non-melanoma skin cancer

You are here: 

Potential side effects of topical chemotherapy for non-melanoma skin cancer

Side effects can occur with any type of treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer, but not everyone has them or experiences them in the same way. Side effects of topical chemotherapy will depend mainly on:

  • the type of drug
  • the dose
  • the person’s overall health

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it can also damage healthy cells. Different cells and tissues in the body tolerate chemotherapy differently. Topical chemotherapy is applied to a specific area of the skin. Very little of the drug is absorbed into the body and side effects are generally related to the treatment area.

Side effects can happen any time during, immediately after, or a few days or weeks after chemotherapy. Most side effects go away after chemotherapy is finished. Late side effects can occur months or years after chemotherapy. Some side effects may last a long time or be permanent. It is important to report side effects to the healthcare team.

Skin changes

Some chemotherapy drugs can cause minor skin changes or skin irritation. Skin changes can occur during and for some time after chemotherapy. It is important to be aware that skin may be more sensitive or easily irritated during treatment.

Some general skin reactions that can occur are:

  • redness
  • inflammation
  • rash
  • itching
  • oozing
  • pain

Back to top

Sensitivity to the sun

Many drugs can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight (called photosensitivity) while a person is receiving chemotherapy. This sensitivity can continue for a few months after treatment is finished.

Protect skin from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that covers the arms and legs. Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher before going outside and limit time outdoors. Zinc oxide can be used to fully block out the sun, but it should be used along with other sun-protection measures.

Back to top


The skin in the area treated may scar.

Back to top

Note: Other side effects may occur. For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.


Researchers Dr John White and Dr James Gleason Dr John White is developing a new 2-in-1 cancer treatment to outsmart drug resistance.

Learn more

How can you stop cancer before it starts?

It's My Life! icon

Discover how your lifestyle choices can affect cancer risk and how you can take action with our interactive tool – It’s My Life!

Learn more