Topical calcineurin inhibitors

Topical calcineurin inhibitors (pimecrolimus and tacrolimus) are a class of eczema medication. They help to suppress the signs and symptoms of eczema (itching, redness and inflammation) which are a reaction caused by a local immune response. They are applied to the skin twice daily for as long as the signs and symptoms persist.

Health Canada issued a Public Health Advisory in 2005, advising Canadians about the appropriate use of these products. The advisory stressed that these medications should be used according to approved labelling (i.e., the instructions provided by the manufacturer and approved by Health Canada).

Over a decade has passed since then, though the role of topical calcineurin inhibitors in the development of cancer is still uncertain. There is no clinical evidence of an increased rate of certain cancers when compared to the general public.

While numerous studies have shown that topical calcineurin inhibitors are safe and effective, it's still important to use these medications exactly as directed by your physician:

  • Pimecrolimus and tacrolimus should be reserved for cases where other eczema treatments are inappropriate or ineffective.
  • These medications should not be used for children under two years of age because the effect on the developing immune system is unknown.
  • Use only the appropriate amount of medication needed to control your eczema symptoms.
  • These medications should only be used for short-term and long-term intermittent treatment (short treatment periods with breaks in between treatments) as directed by your doctor. They are not intended to be used continuously.
  • People with weakened immune systems should not use these medications.

If you are concerned about your risk of cancer or would like more information, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

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