Precancer Awareness: Precursors to Skin Cancer that are Treatable
While basking in the sun this time of year can feel like a warm swaddling from Mother Nature, it’s important to remember that our planet’s closest star doesn’t always have our best interests in mind. And, our skin all-to-often bears the brunt of its harm.
We all likely know by now that ultraviolet (UV) rays produced by the sun can, over time, damage our skin and potentially cause skin cancer. This is common knowledge, and it’s why dermatologists and other health care professionals insist we all wear a high-SPF sunscreen whenever we go outdoors. (If you don’t regularly do this, start today!)
Skin cancer, however, isn’t the only thing we need to be vigilant about when it comes to protecting our skin. Other precancerous conditions exist, which can eventually lead to the development of the dreaded C-word if ignored or left untreated. One of the most common of these “precancers” is actinic keratosis or AK for short.
What is Actinic Keratosis (AK)?
Also known as solar keratosis, AK is the most common precancer in the U.S. It’s a condition that affects an estimated one in four Americans, making it the most diagnosed skin condition for people over 45.
AK forms as dry, scaly, or crusty patches or bumps on areas that have been damaged by long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun. It typically forms on the face, lips, ears, scalp, neck, forearms, the back of the hands … generally, any area on our bodies that is regularly exposed to sunlight.
Sometimes AK is visually noticeable through discoloration – shades vary from red, pink and tan, to brown and silvery – and other times, it can be best detected through touch, as in a bump or raised horn shape.
If left untreated, people with actinic keratosis have a 10-30 percent risk of developing a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). With 1.8 million diagnoses per year, SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer. More than 15,000 Americans die from SCC each year.
However, the good news is that while AK is such a common condition, it’s also very treatable.
Treatments for actinic keratosis vary depending on the prevalence and severity of the condition. Small patches or bumps, for instance, may be destroyed through “spot therapy” – essentially burning it off through cryotherapy “freeze” therapy (liquid nitrogen).
Other treatments fall under the “field therapy” category. Such treatments include:
Several types of topical creams and gels are available that, when prescribed, can be applied by the patient at home. Each drug works differently, so consulting with a dermatology professional is critical in ensuring the treatment is optimally selected based on individual conditions.
Chemical or Laser Peels
Performed by a health practitioner, chemical and laser peels strip away the skin’s surface, which may effectively remove and destroy AK patches. Chemical peels are not 100 percent effective for all types of AK, so consult with our team at Vitality Integrative Skin Clinic to learn if this treatment may be effective for you.
Some studies support the use of one of the B vitamins, Niacinamide, for the prevention of not only precancers but also basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. There is also promising data that it may also help prevent melanoma cancer as well. In addition to Niacinamide therapy, there are phytonutrients and polyphenols found in foods that can also help to reverse some of the DNA UV radiation damage done by the sun.
Schedule a Skin Cancer Screening
Erin Bishop, founder of Vitality Integrative Skin Clinic in Bend, OR, is a Dermatology Certified Nurse Practitioner (DCNP) with several years of experience in the field. So, if you have concerns about precancerous conditions such as AKs or skin cancers, it may be time to schedule a thorough skin cancer screening at our clinic.
Schedule your skin cancer screening by calling us at (458) 206-3331 or requesting an appointment through our website. Along with complete screenings, our services also include biopsies and the treatment of chronic skin conditions with an integrative approach. We look forward to seeing you!