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Efudex and What I Like to Call Back-tracing

Unfortunately, many doctors don’t go into a lot of detail about the redness irritation that Efudex can cause. Skin cancer patients are often stunned when they begin looking at images online.

Not every user experiences the most severe side effects, but many do have extreme itching, rashes, and outright pain at times. As they begin to examine their schedule and think about work and school, it hits them: This could be a very big deal. Holidays, gatherings, family vacations: All of these things weigh heavily on the mind of any patient heading into treatment with topical chemotherapy.

My dermatologist leaves a lot up to me

Doctors will instruct us to use the cream and specify how many times a day and for x number of weeks but, in some cases, they leave the start date up to the patient. Depending on the severity and location of my precancers, my dermatologist has given me a timeframe in which to treat but allows me to choose a starting time that works with my schedule.

I was going on vacation

When I was told I needed to treat my face, I asked my doctor if it was safe to wait a few weeks until school was out for the summer. Another time, I opted to start treatment right away because I knew we had a fall break vacation coming up, and I wanted to get done before we left.

Learning the hard way

Efudex, a topical chemotherapy, takes some time to do its magic, which is a little detail often left out in consults in the doctor’s office. I learned this lesson the hard way, I’m afraid. My first round of treatment was on my chest, and I completed it during the school year just prior to Thanksgiving break. The healing stage is the most challenging part of the process, and it hit right at the time I was trying to enjoy time with family. I promised myself then that my next round would be more carefully planned if at all possible.


I quickly learned to do what I like to call “back-tracing.” This method gives me enough time to finish treatment before important dates. In the event my dermatologist doesn’t feel a sense of real urgency for my treatment, I plan my own treatment based on the number of weeks suggested. Knowing that I can either react very quickly or take a few weeks to see results, I try to plan treatments while taking into account the usual number of weeks it takes to see complete healing. It has taken a few years to perfect this back-tracing but I find it very helpful in maneuvering some very difficult situations like family trips and holiday gatherings.

Here's how I do my Efudex math

For example, if I am prescribed Efudex and instructed to apply daily for one month, I figure in those four weeks plus about two to three weeks of healing time. When planning a family vacation to Disneyworld a few years ago, I started treatment well ahead of the first day of our trip–six weeks to be exact. By the time we were packed and on our way, I was in the easier stage of healing with little discomfort, lingering redness, and some peeling. This was much easier than trying to battle application and constant itching and burning while very much wanting to enjoy time with my kids.

It's important to follow instructions

As with any medication prescribed by your doctor, we advise you to follow the given instructions. However, it is more than worth taking a moment to discuss concerns during your visit with your health care provider or calling the office when questions arise once you have had time to process things at home. We know not because we ask not. There is every possibility that you can plan your Efudex treatment to both yield desired results and blend with your schedule.

Do you take your personal schedule into account when it comes to Efudex treatment?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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