Associate professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Dr. Dana L. Sachs, M.D. released a study that shows the chemotherapy drug fluorouracil may help reduce precancerous skin patches and improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin.
Fluorouracil is a drug used to treat cancers of the colon, head and neck, pancreas and other organs which stops the body from synthesizing thymine, a building block of DNA.
Clinicians began noticing a change in skin appearance for cancer patients who were using the drug in an unrelated study. This led these them to develop a topical therapy to treat skin lesions that may develop into skin cancer.
Dr. Sachs and his colleagues evaluated molecular and clinical changes in the skin of 21 healthy volunteers who had skin lesions and sun-damaged skin. They applied a 5 percent fluorouracil cream to their face twice a day for two weeks. Evaluations were done at the beginning of the study and photographs were taken as it progressed. Patients were also evaluated at the end by three dermatologists not involved with the study.
The number of lesions was reduced significantly from an average of 11.6 to 1.5. Clinical evaluations found other improvements to age-related skin issues, including decreases in wrinkling, dark skin spots, hyperpigmentation (skin getting darker) and sallowness (yellow skin tone).
Skin biopsies taken soon after patients discontinued applying the topical skin cream showed increases in levels of compounds related to skin injury, inflammation and degradation of the extracellular matrix. The study’s authors also write that topical fluorouracil causes epidermal injury which improves appearance by stimulating wound healing and dermal remodeling.
Treatment was generally well tolerated with 95% of patients seeing an improvement in their while 89% said they would do it again. Patients who use this topical ointment for skin lesions will also likely see restorative effects from sun damage, providing further motivation to undergo the rigorous treatment.
However, there are some who may find this treatment cosmetically unacceptable since the standard course of therapy may last two to three weeks and the ensuing reaction may last for several more. But there will undoubtedly be others who will choose to undergo this cosmetic treatment due to its lower cost.