Systemic therapies for skin cancer

Systemic therapies, like medications, circulate through your entire body.

These cancer medications may be taken orally (by mouth), by an injection or by an intravenous (IV) infusion directly into the bloodstream. Our medical oncologists and dermatologists have the experience and expertise to deliver state-of-the-art treatments.

Systemic therapy may be recommended for advanced skin cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes or other areas. Different types of drugs work in different ways and your therapy may involve:

  • Chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin or 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), may be used for some advanced squamous cell cancers to shrink the tumor before surgery or radiation. Systemic chemotherapy may be recommended for Kaposi’s sarcoma and Merkel cell carcinoma.
  • Immunotherapy drugs aim to stimulate your immune system into fighting the cancer. Checkpoint inhibitor drugs such as cemiplimab (Libtayo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) block a protein called PD-1 on your immune T-cells, that prevents them from attacking cancer cells. Blocking this protein helps to trigger the T-cell into cancer-fighting mode. These drugs may be recommended for some squamous cell and basal cell cancers that cannot be effectively treated with surgery, radiation therapy or targeted therapy.
  • Targeted therapy drugs attack cancer cells by focusing on a specific part of the cancer cell that isn’t found in other normal cells. Drugs such as vismodegib (Erivedge) and sonidegeb (Odomzo) target a communication pathway that cells use to signal information. Other drugs, such as cetuximab (Erbitux) target a specific protein on the cancer cells that cause them to grow.