Evaluation of the Use of Capecitabine for the Treatment and Prevention of Actinic Keratoses, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Basal Cell Carcinoma: A Systematic Review

JAMA Dermatol. 2020 Oct 1;156(10):1117-1124. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.2327.


Importance: Certain patient groups, such as solid organ transplant recipients (SOTRs), have a significantly increased risk of developing skin cancers. The chemotherapeutic drug capecitabine has been used off label as a chemopreventive modality to suppress the development of precancerous skin lesions and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs).

Objective: To systematically review published studies on the use of capecitabine for the treatment and prevention of precancerous and cancerous skin lesions, with a focus on cutaneous SCC.

Evidence review: For this systematic review, a literature search was performed using the PubMed and Embase databases in December 2019 for all articles published between January 1, 1998, and December 31, 2019, using the search term capecitabine paired with each of the following terms: actinic keratosis, actinic keratoses, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. Articles on the use of capecitabine for the treatment and prevention of actinic keratoses (AKs), SCCs, and basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) were selected for inclusion.

Findings: Sixteen publications met the criteria for inclusion, with 8 case reports describing the inflammation of AKs in patients with solid organ cancer treated with capecitabine (2 patients with breast cancer and 6 patients with colorectal cancer). One case report and 1 case series of 4 patients investigated the use of capecitabine for the treatment of advanced or widespread cutaneous SCCs. A total of 6 publications (3 case reports and 3 case series) described the use of capecitabine to prevent development of SCCs in SOTRs. Of these case series, 2 studies found a significant reduction in SCC incidence rate during treatment with capecitabine compared with before treatment. Adverse effects, such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, elevated creatinine level, hand-foot syndrome, hyperuricemia, weight loss, anemia, and cardiomyopathy, limited the duration of chemoprevention in several patients.

Conclusions and relevance: Capecitabine treatment may be associated with a decrease in the incidence of SCCs in SOTRs. Capecitabine treatment may also be associated with a decrease in AK and BCC incidence. However, practitioners must weigh this benefit against the risk of adverse effects for each patient individually. Further investigation with a prospective clinical trial is warranted.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Capecitabine / administration & dosage*
  • Capecitabine / adverse effects
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / prevention & control*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / prevention & control*
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Keratosis, Actinic / chemically induced
  • Keratosis, Actinic / epidemiology*
  • Keratosis, Actinic / prevention & control
  • Off-Label Use
  • Organ Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Patient Selection
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Transplant Recipients / statistics & numerical data


  • Capecitabine