Pre-cancerous lesions are growths on the skin that have not yet turned into cancer but are composed of cells that are likely to become malignant. Scientifically known as actinic keratoses, keratosis in singular form, precancerous lesions develop when keratin proteins in the skin are mutated by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light. Actinic keratoses may be itchy or tender and can sometimes produce a prickly sensation. They can also become inflamed and surrounded by redness. In rare instances, actinic keratoses can even bleed.
Where are Lesions Found?
Pre-cancerous lesions usually appear on sun exposed areas of the body.
- Back of Hands
Signs of Pre-Cancerous Lesions
Pre-cancerous lesions are described as scaly and dry patches or clusters on the othermost layer of skin. They are raised or elevated and have a rough texture. They may initially resemble warts but can have different color compositions including, red, tan, white, pink or the color of your skin tone.
In the beginning, pre-cancerous lesions are often so small that they are recognized by touch rather than sight. In this stage, they will feel like sandpaper. Usually there are significantly more lesions than those visible on the surface of the skin.
When a Pre-Cancerous Skin Lesion has Evolved into Cancer
Pre-cancerous lesions can quickly turn into squamous cell carcinoma, a malignant form of skin cancer. Immediately visit a doctor if you notice any changes in the appearance of the growths on your skin. Below are warning signs that your precancerous lesions may have turned into skin cancer.
- The color changes
- The lesions become unevenly smaller or bigger
- The lesions change in shape, texture, or height
- The lesions start to itch
- The lesions bleed or ooze
Surgical Treatment for Pre-cancerous Lesions
1) Electrodesiccation and curettage and 2) cryotherapy are surgical treatment options to remove pre-cancerous lesions before they develop into full blown skin cancer.
Laser and Light Treatments for Pre-cancerous Lesions
Laser- An extremely precise laser targets the precancerous lesions as well as the damaged skin surrounding them.
Photodynamic Therapy- Patients will receive a specialized medication that activates when light energy is applied directly to the target area. Multiple treatments are needed.
If you have several pre-cancerous lesions, your doctor may prescribe a topical cream or gel in conjunction with other more aggressive treatments. This way, both visible and invisible lesions can be treated and eliminated. Doctors sometimes refer to this type of therapy as field therapy, since the topical treatments can cover a wide field of skin as opposed to targeting isolated lesions.
Topical Chemotherapy- Rather than being given by mouth or injected into a vein, topical chemotherapy is put directly on the skin in the form of a cream or ointment. Because the drug is only applied to the skin, it does not spread throughout the body. This eliminates the side effects of systemic chemotherapy that affect the whole body. Topical chemo can make treated skin red and very sensitive for a few weeks, but additional topical medication can be used to help relieve this side effect. As a result, the skin may be more sensitive and sun exposure should be limited.
Chemical Peel- A specialized solution is applied to the face, causing the top layer of skin to slowly slough away. This less aggressive treatment is exclusively for smaller growths that are only on the surface of the skin.