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Precancer of the Skin
The Earliest Stages of Cancer Development

Some skin cancers start as benign pre-cancerous lesions known as actinic keratoses. While many of these surface lesions never progress to malignancy, an estimated one in twenty will grow into the deeper layers of the skin to become squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. They are small, raised, scaly spots or lesions that are most commonly found on the face, scalp, arms and backs of hands - areas that receive greater exposure to the sun. They may bleed, periodically heal and then return. Because they may also become skin cancers, early detection and treatment are especially important.

Pre-cancerous skin lesions are benign. They will not shorten your life or harm your health. However, pre-cancers usually require treatment not only due to the higher risk of developing cancer, but also because they can be unsightly, crusty, tender and may not heal. These lesions are slow growing and may reach a size of one inch in diameter. It is not uncommon to develop more than one, or even multiple actinic keratoses, at one time.


Know The Warning Signs

Regular skin examinations are key to proper diagnosis and treatment of pre-cancer. Take some time each month to perform self-examination to look for new or changing lesions, which have become scaly, rough, crusty or bleed. If you find a suspicious lesion, see your dermatologist immediately. Because it is difficult to predict which pre-cancers will turn to cancer, doctors generally treat them with simple office procedures that destroy the abnormal cells:
  • The most common method is to remove growths with liquid nitrogen. A highly concentrated spray of cold liquid nitrogen is applied to the lesion, destroying the pre-cancerous cells.
  • Doctors also treat actinic keratosis with electrodesiccation using a light current of electricity. The skin is anesthetized and the lesion "zapped". Then, doctors gently peel the affected tissue away.
  • When multiple lesions are present, a topical anticancer cream may be prescribed for in-home use over a period of weeks, which irritates and destroys actinic keratoses.
  • New Aldara prescription cream is the latest development in the treatment of actinic keratoses. Aldara works by boosting your body's immune system and shrinking pre-cancers from the inside out.

Protect Your Skin

To prevent actinic keratosis and other pre-cancerous changes associated with sun exposure, be sure to follow simple sun protection steps.
  • Avoid exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and a hat.
  • Apply and frequently re-apply sunscreen of at least 30 SPF.
  • Avoid tanning parlors.

Find Out More

Schedule a consultation if you have a suspicious lesion. Midwest Dermatology Clinic can provide effective treatment for pre-cancerous and cancerous skin growths and follow up on your skin's good health. For more information, click here.


 
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