Imiquimod is presumed to clear basal cell carcinoma (BCC) through apoptosis mediated by cytokines and lymphocytes, with erosion often observed correlating with complete clearance. The objective was to determine the cellular immune response early in the course of treatment in order to examine whether cell mediated immunity could be responsible for imiquimod mediated regression of BCC. Sixteen adults with clinically diagnosed BCC were openly assigned to 5 days per week of drug (1, 2 or 4 weeks) or placebo (2 weeks) in groups of four. No baseline biopsy was performed. Post-treatment excision specimens were examined by routine and immunohistochemical staining. Treatment was associated with the early appearance of CD4 cells, activated dendritic cells and macrophages, with later infiltration by CD8 T cells. Dendritic cells continually increased with time, while macrophages reached a maximum at 1 week and then declined slightly. There were comparatively few neutrophils or gammadelta T cells. Early infiltrates were most prominent in the tumour and upper dermis. The results are consistent with a cell mediated immune response being responsible for the clearance of the BCC. Several immune-mediated tumour destruction mechanisms are likely to be involved.