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Imiquimod: A treatment for some skin cancers, genital warts

Imiquimod (ih-mih-kwih-mod) is a prescription medicine that you use at home. It comes in a cream that you apply to your skin. Your dermatologist may prescribe imiquimod to treat:

  • Actinic keratosis (AK)

  • Basal cell carcinoma (the earliest form of this skin cancer)

  • Genital warts

Sun-damaged skin

People with sun-damanged skin have a higher risk for developing actinic keratosis (AKs).

An older man with sun-damaged skin on his forehead, face, and neck

Sometimes, a dermatologist will prescribe imiquimod to treat another skin condition.

For your dermatologist to prescribe imiquimod, you must:

  • Be willing to apply the medicine as instructed

  • Return for follow-up appointments

  • Have a normally functioning immune system

Imiquimod treatment

Imiquimod treats many patients safely and effectively, but it is not right for everyone. If your dermatologist mentions imiquimod as a possible treatment, be sure to tell your dermatologist if you have:

  • A disease that affects your immune system, such as HIV, AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriasis, or graft vs. host disease

  • Allergies

  • Treated this skin condition in the past and what treatment you used

You also should tell your dermatologist if you take:

  • Any medicine (including ones you buy without a prescription, such as aspirin)

  • Vitamins

  • Minerals

  • Herbal supplements

Talk with your dermatologist about concerns

If you have any concerns about using imiquimod, you should tell your dermatologist. Dermatologists have been prescribing this medicine for years. In fact, dermatologists led many of the clinical trials for imiquimod. This makes dermatologists very familiar with the medicine and knowledgeable about whom it can help.

Before talking about concerns, it may be helpful to know the advantages and disadvantages of using this medicine, which are shown below.

  • Well tolerated
  • Non-invasive
  • Excellent to good cosmetic results
  • Can clear AKs not yet visible, causing them to appear and clear
  • Little scarring
  • No skin discoloration
  • Good option for treating face, when difficult to perform more-invasive treatment
  • No patient downtime 
  • Irritation usually develops on treated skin —redness, flaking, and scabbing typical
  • Not effective for all patients
  • Patient must apply medication as directed
  • Longer treatment time
  • Cost

Dermatologists continue to lead research studies that look at how much imiquimod can help improve the lives of their patients.

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