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Treatment for ulcerating tumours

Your treatment for an ulcerating tumour depends on your type of cancer and any treatments you have had.

Treatment decisions

Your medical team might offer you the following for your ulcerating wound:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • electrochemotherapy

These treatments can work well, particularly if you have not had any other treatments. In a few people, the wound will clear up altogether.

Treatment aims to kill cancer cells and help to shrink an ulcerating (fungating) wound. This can reduce pressure on nerves, which can decrease pain. These treatments also help to reduce oozing and bleeding.

But treatments are not suitable for everyone. Your doctor will discuss the possible benefits and side effects with you.

Radiotherapy

Doctors often use radiotherapy to treat ulcerating tumours.

Ulceration could seem worse in the beginning when you have radiotherapy. This is because the cancer cells die off. You might have a mild skin reaction to the radiotherapy, which causes redness and dry, flaky skin.

You may have some other side effects of radiotherapy. These will depend on the part of your body that is having treatment.

Chemotherapy

The chemotherapy drug used most to treat ulcerating tumours is fluorouracil. For a wound that is a primary cancer, your wound care nurse can spread fluorouracil cream onto it. A primary cancer means where the cancer started.

But if it is a secondary cancer, you're more likely to have injections or a drip (infusion) into a vein. A secondary cancer means it has spread from a primary site to other parts of the body.

Hormone therapy

Your doctor might recommend hormone treatment if your primary cancer responds to hormones. For example, if you have oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer. Hormone therapy can help to shrink the ulcerating tumour and slow down its growth.

With this type of treatment, signs of improvement could take 4 to 6 weeks to appear.

Electrochemotherapy

Electrochemotherapy is a combination of:

  • chemotherapy injected into the tumour or bloodstream
  • electrical current to help chemotherapy pass into cancer cells

It is a newer treatment for treating ulcerating (fungating) wounds. It might not be available in all hospitals in the UK.

Ulcerating cancers can cause discomfort due to bleeding. This symptom can be difficult to cope with. Electrochemotherapy treatment can help stop the bleeding and relieve the discomfort.

Last reviewed: 
16 Dec 2019
  • Palliative care - malignant skin ulcer

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

    Accessed December 2019

  • Recommendations for the Care of Patients with Malignant Fungating Wounds
    European Oncology Nursing Society, 2015

  • HSE National Wound Management Guidelines 2018

    Clinical Strategy and Programmes Division

    The Office of Nursing and Midwifery Services Director

  • Electrochemotherapy for the palliative management of cutaneous metastases: A systematic review and meta-analysis

    J Morley and others

    European Journal of Surgical Oncology. 2019 December; 45(12): 2257-2267

  • Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine (5th edition)

    N Cherny and others

    Oxford University Press, 2015

  • Fungating Wounds - Multidimensional Challenge in Palliative care
    M Thomas (and others)
    Breast Care, 2011. 6: 21-24

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