Interventions for basal cell carcinoma of the skin: systematic review

BMJ. 2004 Sep 25;329(7468):705. doi: 10.1136/bmj.38219.515266.AE. Epub 2004 Sep 13.


Objectives: To assess the effects of treatments for basal cell carcinoma.

Methods: Systematic review of randomised controlled trials.

Main outcome measure: Recurrence of basal cell carcinoma at three years or beyond, assessed clinically.

Studies reviewed: Randomised controlled trials of interventions for histologically confirmed basal cell carcinoma (published and unpublished material; no language restrictions).

Results: 25 studies were identified, covering seven therapeutic categories. Only one study of surgical excision versus radiotherapy contained primary outcome data, which showed significantly more persistent tumours and recurrences in the radiotherapy group compared with surgery (odds ratio 0.09, 95% confidence interval 0.01 to 0.67). One study compared cryotherapy with surgery, with inconclusive results at one year. In a comparison of radiotherapy with cryotherapy, significantly more recurrences occurred at one year in the cryotherapy group. Preliminary studies suggest a short term success rate of 87-88% for imiquimod cream in the treatment of superficial basal cell carcinoma, although this cream has not been compared with surgery. No consistent evidence was found for the other treatment modalities.

Conclusions: Little good quality research has been done on the treatments used for the most common cancer in humans. Most trials have included only people with basal cell carcinoma occurring at low risk sites. Only one trial measured recurrence at four years; recurrence rates at one year should be interpreted with caution. Surgery and radiotherapy seem to be the most effective treatments; surgery showed the lowest failure rates. Other treatments might have some use but need to be compared with surgery.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / therapy*
  • Cryotherapy / methods
  • Humans
  • Photochemotherapy / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents