Most skin lesions that are encountered are benign. These include common moles, skin tags, benign cysts and birthmarks. However, some are pre-malignant (early cancer) and should be seen and addressed by a physician. If a lesion is new, bleeding, changing (in shape, size or color), recurring or painful, it may be a sign of a cancerous or pre-cancerous lesion.
Most importantly, if you are concerned about a lesion, it should examined by a trained physician.
AK is the most common type of pre-cancerous lesion, affecting over 10 million individuals in the US. AK is a sign of long-term sun-damage to the skin and increases the risk of developing skin cancers. It usually affects individuals with lighter complexions who have a tendency of getting sunburns.
These lesions can be raised, scaly, and feel rough to touch. They may come and go and at times patients may notice that the rough surface falls off only to return in a few days or weeks.
Although moles and other brown spots are typically non-cancerous, there are some lesions that increase the risk of developing melanomas. It is difficult for patients to be able to differentiate between these.
Dysplastic nevi are atypical moles that although benign, increase the risk of developing melanomas. Therefore, it is important to have your moles and pigmented lesions examined regularly. Any change in color, shape, size or characteristics of any of your moles is a cause for concern.
Every pre-cancerous and cancerous lesion requires a specific, targeted treatment. Therefore, only an experienced physician can determine the appropriate treatment for your skin lesion. However, some lesions are treated with non-surgical approaches such as medications, lasers or peels.
Certain topical medications have been used to treat skin that is riddled with actinic keratosis, sun damage and basal cell carcinomas. These medications are applied topically for 4-6 weeks. They may cause a reaction on the skin. This reaction can range anywhere from slight redness to the appearance of a severe sunburn. The reaction lasts for one week after the termination of the treatment.
Peels and lasers work by removing the outermost layers of the skin, allowing new skin to regenerate and fresh collagen to be deposited. This leads to younger and healthier appearing skin. Lasers and peels can also remove minor blemishes and certain pre-malignant lesions.
Typically after these treatments, the skin needs to be cleansed several times a day and well moisturized for one week. After that, the skin will have redness similar to a typical sunburn. This usually lasts for one to two weeks.
Actinic keratosis can be treated with an aminolevulinic acid (ALA) peel. This peel is left in place for 45 minutes and then activated using a laser (IPL or Blue light). This results in a reaction similar to a sunburn that lasts up to 7 days and results in clearing of the actinic lesion on the skin.