Efudex cream contains the anti-cancer medication with the chemical name 5-fluorouracil. It is used to treat actinic keratoses, which are precancerous skin lesions caused by sun damage. Actinic keratoses feel rough and are sometimes scaly. They are not skin cancer, but they often turn into skin cancer, which is why they need to be treated.
Repeated, prolonged sun exposure causes skin damage which may develop into an actinic keratosis. The sun damage responsible for an actinic keratosis has usually occurred years before the lesion forms. It is always recommended to avoid extended exposure to the sun and if you do go out in the sun to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
How is Efudex Cream used to treat Actinic Keratoses?
Efudex (5-fluorouracil) cream is applied to the involved area twice a day. This is continued for five to six weeks, depending on the response. Before applying the cream, wash and dry the affected area of skin well, then wait 10 minutes before applying a small amount of the cream, usually just enough to cover the entire area with a thin film. Wash your hands thoroughly after using this medication.
The treated area becomes red, raw and irritated. In some cases, this irritation may last for several weeks. You should not cover the treated area with tight dressings and should consult with your doctor before covering it with loose gauze.
Healing starts when the Efudex cream is stopped. Sometimes a second medicine, hydrocortisone cream, is applied to the area after the Efudex is stopped, but this should only be done under the advice of your doctor. New actinic keratoses and skin cancers often arise at or near the location where old ones have been treated. This is because the skin cells nearby have just as much damage as the ones already treated.
Are there Efudex side effects?
The most common side effects of Efudex are skin irritation, burning, redness, dryness, pain, swelling, tenderness or changes in skin color at the site of application. Eye irritation, irritability, trouble sleeping, temporary hair loss, and an abnormal taste in the mouth may also be possible effects.
There are other rare but very serious side effects including stomach/abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, signs of infection, easy bruising/bleeding and mouth sores. If you experience any of these, you should notify your doctor immediately. You should always make your doctor aware of any medications you may be taking to avoid drug interactions and pregnant and breast-feeding women should not use this medication as it can harm developing babies.
Using Efudex can make you more sensitive to the sun, so you should avoid prolonged exposure to the sun as well as using tanning beds and sun lamps. When you do go outside you should wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen. Make sure you wait 2 hours after using this medication before applying any sunscreen or moisturizer.