Basal cell carcinoma: an evidence-based treatment update

Charlotte M Clark, Megan Furniss, Julian M Mackay-Wiggan
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology 2014, 15 (3): 197-216

BACKGROUND: Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common skin cancer. Surgical excision remains the standard of treatment, but several alternative treatment modalities exist.

OBJECTIVES: This review aims to provide a current analysis of evidence for the treatment of BCC; specifically, which treatments have the lowest recurrence rates and the best cosmetic outcomes.

METHODS: We searched PubMed (January 1946 to August 2013), Ovid MEDLINE (2003-August 2013), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (January 1993 to August 2013), and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (The Cochrane Library Issue 9, 2013) databases for randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews, or comparative studies for the treatment of BCC.

RESULTS: We found 615 potential articles. Two independent reviewers selected 40 studies: 29 randomized controlled trials (RCTs), seven systematic reviews, and four nonrandomized prospective trials. Treatment modalities reviewed include surgical therapy, radiotherapy and cryotherapy, photodynamic therapy (PDT), topical imiquimod, topical 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), topical solasodine glycoalkaloids, topical ingenol mebutate, intralesional 5-FU, intralesional interferon (IFN), and oral hedgehog pathway inhibitors.

CONCLUSIONS: The available data suggest that surgical methods remain the gold standard in BCC treatment, with Mohs micrographic surgery typically utilized for high-risk lesions. Suitable alternate treatment options for appropriately selected primary low-risk lesions may include PDT, cryotherapy, topical imiquimod, and 5-FU. Radiotherapy is a suitable alternate for surgical methods for treatment in older patient populations. Electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C) is a commonly used primary treatment option for low-risk lesions; however, there were no RCTs examining ED&C that met our inclusion criteria. New hedgehog pathway inhibitors are promising for the management of advanced BCC; however, side effects are a concern for some patients, and much remains to be learned regarding optimal treatment length, risk of recurrence, and potential development of resistance. There is insufficient evidence at present to make recommendations on topical solasodine glycoalkaloids, topical ingenol mebutate, and intralesional 5-FU and IFN-α. Overall continued research on the efficacy of treatment modalities is needed. In particular, studies should include histologic ascertainment of clearance, long-term follow-up, stratification based on tumor subtype, and comparison with surgical outcomes.

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