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Benefit and harm associated with treating actinic keratosis (AK) with the immune response modifier imiquimod was assessed using published randomized-controlled trials. Five randomized double-blind trials lasted 12-16 weeks and treated 1,293 patients. Complete clearance occurred in 50% of patients treated with imiquimod, compared to 5% treated with vehicle, and the number needed to treat (NNT) for one patient to have their keratosis completely cleared after 12-16 weeks was 2.2 (95% confidence interval 2.0-2.5). For partial (>/=75%) clearance the NNT was 1.8 (1.7-2.0). The proportion of patients with any adverse event, any local adverse event, or any treatment-related adverse event was substantially higher with imiquimod than with vehicle, and numbers needed to harm for one additional adverse event with imiquimod over 12-16 weeks ranged from 3.2 to 5.9. Particular local adverse events with imiquimod included erythema (27%), scabbing or crusting (21%), flaking (9%), erosion (6%), edema (4%), and weeping (3%). Imiquimod 5% cream was effective in the treatment of AK, preventing potential development of squamous cell carcinoma. Future investigation might be aimed at elucidating optimal dosing to minimize adverse events without detriment to efficacy, and evaluating long-term recurrence.

Original publication




Journal article


J Invest Dermatol

Publication Date





1251 - 1255


Aminoquinolines, Antineoplastic Agents, Carcinoma in Situ, Carcinoma, Squamous Cell, Humans, Imiquimod, Keratosis, Ointments, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Skin Neoplasms