Topical agents and dressings for fungating wounds (ulcers caused by cancer)

Fungating wounds sometimes occur in people with advanced cancer. Care usually aims to slow down disease progression, and improve quality of life by relieving the physical symptoms caused by the wounds (leakage, bad smell, pain and the risk of haemorrhage) by means of appropriate dressings and other applied treatments. There is weak evidence to suggest that a 6% solution of miltefosine, applied as a fluid to small, superficial fungating wounds on the breast (in people with breast cancer who had previously had either radiotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy or chemotherapy) may slow down the progression of the disease (i.e. extend the time to disease progression). There is also weak evidence to suggest that foam dressings containing silver may be effective in reducing bad smell. There is very little evidence in this area of medicine, however, and what there is is insufficient to give clear directions to practice for improving quality of life or managing wound symptoms in people with fungating wounds. More research is needed in this area.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is weak evidence from one small trial that 6% miltefosine solution applied topically to people with superficial fungating breast lesions (smaller than 1cm) who have received either previous radiotherapy, surgery, hormonal therapy or chemotherapy for their breast cancer, may slow disease progression. There is also weak evidence to suggest that foam dressings containing silver may be effective in reducing malodour. There is insufficient evidence in this review to give a clear direction for practice with regard to improving quality of life or managing wound symptoms associated with fungating wounds. More research is needed.

Read the full abstract...

Fungating wounds arise from primary, secondary or recurrent malignant disease and are associated with advanced cancer. A small proportion of patients may achieve healing following surgical excision, but treatment is usually palliative. Fungating wound management usually aims to slow disease progression and optimise quality of life by alleviating physical symptoms, such as copious exudate, malodour, pain and the risk of haemorrhage, through selection of appropriate dressings and topical agents.


To review the evidence of the effects of dressings and topical agents on quality of life, and symptoms that impact on quality of life, in people with fungating malignant wounds.

Search strategy: 

For this third update we searched the Wounds Group Specialised Register in August 2013; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations); Ovid EMBASE and EBSCO CINAHL.

Selection criteria: 

Eligible studies comprised randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or, in their absence, controlled clinical trials (CCTs) with a concurrent control group.

Data collection and analysis: 

Data extraction and risk of bias assessment was undertaken by one review author and checked for accuracy by a second.

Main results: 

Four trials involving 164 people were included. One RCT in women with superficial breast lesions compared 6% miltefosine solution with placebo and found that miltefosine delayed tumour progression. The study reported that the time to treatment failure was significantly longer in the miltefosine group (median 56 days) than in the placebo group (median 21 days) (p value 0.007, log-rank test). A second trial compared topical metronidazole with placebo but the results up to the point of cross-over were not statistically significant. A third trial compared the effect of foam dressings containing silver to foam dressings without silver and found that more patients experienced decreased malodour in the foam with silver group than in the foam alone group (p value=0.049). The fourth trial compared the effect of manuka honey-coated dressings with nanocrystalline silver-coated dressings and found no statistically significant difference with regard to exudate, malodour and wound pain. All trials, however, had methodological limitations.