Chemotherapy for Skin Cancer

Chemotherapy for Skin Cancer

Home  >  Medical Dermatology  >  Skin Cancer Treatments  >  Chemotherapy for Skin Cancer

Chemotherapy is a popular skin cancer treatment that uses anticancer medicines to kill mutated cells. These medicines are designed to attack and kill cancer cells, especially those that grow quickly. Chemotherapy drugs can be administered topically, orally, or intravenously, depending on the type of cancer diagnosis. Chemotherapy is usually a good treatment option for patients with advanced squamous cell carcinoma and melanomas – cancers that have metastasized. Basal cell carcinoma very rarely reaches an advanced stage, so systemic chemotherapy is not typically used to treat it (targeted therapy is preferred). However, in these rare cases, oral chemotherapy is used.

If you have an advanced skin cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy may be a good skin cancer treatment option. However, the first step on the road to good health is to receive your diagnosis, which is only possible through a skin cancer screening. If you think you may have skin cancer, or if you simply want to begin having regular skin checks, contact our Chesterfield office to schedule your screening.

What should I expect during chemotherapy?

The type of chemotherapy you receive will depend on the type of cancer you have. If you have nonmelanoma skin cancer, or cancer that has not yet metastasized, chemotherapy is applied as a topical cream or ointment to the skin. When used this way, chemotherapy attacks just the cancer cells in the first few layers of skin. The medicine is applied once or twice each day for several weeks. If this is the type of chemotherapy your doctor recommends, they will teach you how to apply the drug at home.

More severe or developed forms of cancer, such as melanoma and advanced squamous cell carcinoma, may require the use of intravenous (IV) chemotherapy. This is a systemic treatment designed to attack cancer that has metastasized, or spread, from the tumor. This is typically provided as an outpatient visit, which means that the medicine will be administered at the hospital, but you will be able to go home almost directly afterwards.

Some advanced cases of basal cell carcinoma respond well to oral chemotherapy medicine. If this describes your diagnosis, you will be able to take your chemotherapy drugs at home like any other oral medicine.

Are there any chemotherapy for skin cancer side effects?

Chemotherapy in most forms comes with a range of side effects. The most common side effects for topical chemotherapy include:

  • Red, itchy, and painful skin where the cream is used. This will go away after treatment.
  • Infection, which should be treated with an antibiotic cream
  • Photosensitivity, or skin sensitivity to sunlight. This will last for a few weeks after treatment.


Intravenous chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, which means it moves through the blood stream to attack cancer cells. As a result, the side effects for this type of chemotherapy are more dramatic. They typically include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Infections as a result of low white blood cell counts
  • Easy bruising or bleeding as a result of low blood platelet counts


Even the rarely used oral chemotherapy is not immune to creating side effects. Possible side effects of the oral medicine for basal cell carcinoma include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Changes in taste
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint aches


How effective is chemotherapy for skin cancer?

Chemotherapy can be a very effective skin cancer treatment in the rare cases where basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma have spread beyond the skin. The treatment is often used in combination with radiation therapy to eradicate the cancer. Chemotherapy will not cure most advanced forms of cancer, like metastasized melanoma, but it can slow the disease and relieve symptoms.