How It Works
Imiquimod is thought to work by helping
immune system produce
interferon and similar substances that attack abnormal
cells, viruses, and cancerous cells.1
Imiquimod is a cream available by prescription. It can be applied at
home. Your doctor will show you how to apply imiquimod.
Why It Is Used
Imiquimod may be the medicine
treatment your doctor recommends first for external genital warts. It may
shrink the warts.
Imiquimod is approved to treat genital warts,
actinic keratosis, and superficial
basal cell carcinoma.
Imiquimod may be used to
treat basal cell carcinomas when surgical methods cannot be used.
Imiquimod can be
used for difficult-to-treat common
It is not known whether imiquimod
is safe to use during pregnancy or on children younger than 12. In the United
States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved imiquimod for
those age 12 and older.
How Well It Works
- Many genital warts go away within 4 months of
- Imiquimod 5% cream is more
effective than 1% cream for genital warts.1
After using imiquimod, there is up to a 20% chance the
warts will come back.2
Basal cell carcinoma
Studies show that more than
75 out of 100 superficial basal cell carcinomas cleared when imiquimod cream was
applied. Imiquimod may prove to be beneficial in treating large, superficial
basal cell carcinomas on the trunk of the body, where surgical treatment can
cause severe scarring.3
Studies show that imiquimod is an effective treatment, with lasting results, for actinic keratoses.4
Whether imiquimod is an effective
treatment for common warts is not yet known.
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
- Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
- Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
- If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
Call your doctor if you have:
Common side effects of this medicine include:
- Mild burning or stinging of skin.
- Flaking of skin.
- Mild soreness or tenderness of skin.
- Mild redness of skin.
- Swelling of area where medicine was applied.
- Lightening of skin color.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Wash your hands after applying
imiquimod cream, because it may cause skin irritation.
Avoid sexual contact while you are using imiquimod cream for genital
warts. Wash the cream off of your skin before you have any sexual contact. The cream may weaken condoms and diaphragms. It also may irritate your
partner's skin or may rub off during sex.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or trying to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Buck HW (2010). Warts (genital), search date December 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Bonnez W, Reichman RC (2010).
Papillomaviruses. In GL Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2035–2049.
Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2010). Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, Version 1. Available online: http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/PDF/nmsc.pdf.
Ibrahim SF, Brown MD (2010). Actinic keratoses. In MG Lebwohl et al., eds., Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies, 3rd ed., pp. 14–17. Edinburgh: Saunders Elsevier.
Primary Medical Reviewer
||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
||Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of
||June 21, 2012