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Precancerous Treatment

Long term sun exposure can lead to lasting damage to the skin and the development of precancerous growths known as Actinic Keratosis (AK).  The presence of AK on the skin is an indication of sun damaged skin and greatly increases the risk of developing skin cancers such as Squamous Cell Carcinoma. 

AK most often appears as a red, scaly area of the skin with a texture similar to sand paper.  It can be painful and may have increased sun sensitivity.  Removal of AK is very important as it reduces the risk of skin cancer.  There are multiple treatment options for AK, giving us the opportunity to customize a plan for each patient.

Some examples of our most commonly used treatments are:

  • Cryotherapy: A liquid nitrogen spray is used to freeze off precancerous spots. It is most useful for treating individual AK lesions.  
  • Field Treatment: When too many spots are present to treat with cryotherapy, prescription medications that can treat a larger area are used. These include various topical medications that are applied to the skin for days to weeks until precancerous spots are removed. Commonly used medications include imiquimod, 5-fluorouracil cream, diclofenac, and ingenol mebutate (Picato). 
  • Photo Dynamic Therapy (PDT): This is another form of field treatment, also referred to as “Blue Light Therapy”. PDT is an in-office procedure that involves applying a medicine to the skin that makes precancerous cells sensitive to light. After the medicine has been applied, a blue light is used to activate the medicine and destroy precancerous spots. PDT is highly effective for treating AKs on the face, scalp and arms, and is typically done in 1-2 treatment sessions rather than weeks of topical therapy.

Regardless of which field treatment is used, a patient’s overall risk of skin cancer can be greatly reduced.  A recent study demonstrated an 80% reduction of skin cancer risk in areas treated during the 5 years following treatment. 

The main preventative measure for AK is proper sun protection with adequate clothing, a hat, and broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 or higher on all sun exposed skin.  Regular skin examinations with your DCCC dermatologist/dermatology provider will help identify and treat these precancerous spots prior to their progression to skin cancer.

 

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