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Precancerous Skin Lesions

Precancerous skin lesions are small growths or lesions on the skin that may lead to skin cancer if untreated.

These lesions, also known as actinic keratosis (AK), tend to be scaly, rough patches of skin. They may be raised but may also not appear outwardly on the skin at all. These AK spots may be tender, itchy, and they may even bleed in some cases, whether they are visible or not. If untreated, AKs may develop into squamous cell carcinomas, a type of skin cancer.

There are other types of precancerous skin changes or growths such as lentigo maligna (LM), which usually appears as a darkly pigmented region with irregular borders and, in some cases, mild redness. These lesions may develop into malignant melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer.

Both AK and LM are found on sun damaged skin, usually in places such as the face, neck, chest and particularly the nose and cheeks.

What causes Precancerous Skin Lesions?

Precancerous skin lesions form as a result of exposure to UV radiation, usually from the sun or a tanning bed. As UV light penetrates our skin and enters our skin cells, it has the power to damage our cellular DNA, causing cells to reproduce irregularly. As our skin cells behave and reproduce abnormally, it begins to change the nature of the skin in that area, leading to these precancerous growths that may eventually become skin cancer if untreated.

What treatments are available for Precancerous Skin Lesions?

The treatments for precancerous cells can be very effective. Liquid nitrogen or cryotherapy, helps to freeze and destroy these cells while excision allows for removal. When considering treatment for precancerous cells, there may be lesions that have not surfaced and therefore a more optimal treatment would be photodynamic therapy. This would capture lesions not necessarily visible, and it’d be the ideal treatment if the patient is at higher risk of having many precancerous cells

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

PDT can be used to treat precancerous skin lesions and cells with great efficacy. PDT utilizes a topical medication followed by a light source. The topical medication helps make the skin more sensitive to light-based treatments. When the light source is applied (like IPL or blue/red light), the skin will better absorb the light enhancing the treatment effect. In this case, blue light is usually administered to help destroy the abnormal precancerous cells in a lesion.


Excisions are the direct removal of these skin lesions surgically. LM responds best to this type of treatment.


Cryotherapy involves the application of liquid nitrogen to freeze precancerous growths. Doing so kills any abnormally-behaving precancerous skin cells, preventing them from developing fully into skin cancer. It’s a great preventative treatment and can be applied quickly and easily during an appointment.

What should I expect with the treatment?

To start, you and Dr. Brandish will develop an individualized treatment plan to PDT, cryotherapy, excision may be most effective for your individual case.

Treatment expectations may vary depending on the modality used. We encourage you to visit the links to the treatments provided above so you can get a more specific idea of what to expect for each option.

Precancerous Skin Lesions Summary

Precancerous skin lesions are small growths and patches of skin that may be changing due to abnormally-behaving skin cells. These lesions are known to be at high risk of turning into full blown skin cancer, and treatment is therefore recommended to take preventative measures. They usually come in the form of either actinic keratosis (AK) or lentigo meligna (LM). Sun damaged skin is most concerning for development of these precancerous cells. By swiftling applying cryotherapy, surgical excision and/or PDT to these lesions, skin cancer can be properly prevented, allowing patients to reap the benefits of not just a clearer complexion but also of a healthy, cancer-free life.

How do I get started with Precancerous Skin Lesions Treatment?

If you’re interested in hearing more or in scheduling an appointment, contact our office at

and we’ll take care of you. We offer free consultation appointments as well if you’d like to simply go over any problem areas and discuss treatment options for Precancerous Skin Lesions with Dr. Brandish.