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Doctors have found some of the gene changes inside skin cancer cells that make them different from normal cells, and they have begun to create drugs that attack these changes. These targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy (chemo) drugs. They may work sometimes when chemo drugs don’t. And they have different side effects.

Examples of targeted drugs include vismodegib (Erivedge) and sonidegib (Odomzo), which can be used to treat some advanced or recurrent basal cell skin cancers. It’s very rare for basal cell cancers to reach an advanced stage, but when they do, these cancers can be hard to treat. These drugs have been shown to help shrink some tumors, although it’s not yet clear if they help people live longer.

Side effects can include muscle spasms, joint pain, hair loss, fatigue, problems with taste, poor appetite and weight loss, nausea and vomiting, itchy skin, diarrhea, and constipation. Women who are pregnant or could become pregnant should not take these drugs.

Last Medical Review: 05/06/2015
Last Revised: 02/01/2016