Decorative image

Imiquimod cream

Imiquimod cream is a treatment that uses your immune system to attack skin cancer cells.

What it is

Imiquimod cream uses your body’s natural defences to help kill the skin cancer cells. It works by releasing a number of chemicals called cytokines. One of these cytokines is called interferon.

Interferon is a protein that is made naturally as part of the body’s immune response. Interferon is also used as a cancer treatment. It is thought that imiquimod makes cells produce more interferon which destroys the skin cancer cells.

When you have it

Imiquimod cream is approved in the UK for the treatment of superficial basal cell skin cancers (BCCs) measuring up to 2cm across. It can be used on your chest or back, neck, arms or legs (including hands and feet). It is not approved for a type of BCC callled nodular BCC.

To treat BCC, you usually put imiquimod cream onto the affected area once a day, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how to do this. 

Imiquimod is also used to treat some people who have actinic (solar) karatosis. This skin condition might develop into squamous cell skin cancer, so it is usually treated.

The benefits

Surgery is successfully used to treat non melanoma skin cancer. But it can cause scarring. 

Imiquimod treatment does not cause the same scarring, although there are still side effects.

You put the cream on at home which means that you:
  • avoid repeated trips to hospital
  • don't have to have an operation

Side effects

You skin where you are putting the cream will become:

  • red and sore skin
  • pain and burning
  • swelling
  • rash

More serious skin reactions can happen in a few people. These include:

  • a very sore, painful treatment area
  • break down of the skin
  • flu like symptoms
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • feeling generally unwell
  • achy joints
Contact your doctor if the area becomes too uncomfortable or you have any of the more serious skin reactions. Your doctor might need to treat your side effects, or stop treatment for a while.

Information and help

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.​