Reacting to a “Pre-Cancer” Diagnosis

When you hear “cancer” in any diagnosis, it can be a pretty scary thing. The word “pre-cancerous,” though, is a little more mysterious.

Should you worry? Not worry? Panic? Do something or do nothing? Midwest Dermatology understands that everyone reacts differently. Here’s what we recommend you know about a pre-cancerous diagnosis:

  • First and most importantly, pre-cancerous lesions are a reason for concern. If left untreated, they often evolve into full-fledged skin cancers. But diagnosis in this early stage leads to successful treatment that keeps you and your skin healthy.
  • Pre-cancerous lesions usually occur as the result of the damage caused by some sort of ultraviolet light, often from the sun or other sources such as tanning beds.
  • Pre-cancerous lesions can occur anywhere on the body, but are most common in areas of sun exposure
  • Pre-cancer is actually the name for a skin cancer that is so early that it is still at Stage 0. The treatment is much more minimal and usually once it has been treated, it is completely removed and you can go on with life.
  • Lastly, something that’s really good to know – Midwest Dermatology physicians are board-certified, trained experts in spotting these early lesions and giving you the care you need.

Here’s how pre-cancers are treated

 One thing that should lower your anxiety level, is that pre-cancers are commonly diagnosed. We see them in our Midwest Dermatology offices every single day. One of the most frequent fliers when it comes to pre-cancer is Actinic Keratoses, or AKs, which appear as rough and scaly patches on the skin. AKs are typically seen on skin with other signs of sun damage.

The reason dermatologists, including ours, take note and show concern about actinic keratoses is because not only do they have the potential to cause disfiguration to the skin, but because they have the potential to change into Squamous Cell Carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.

Your dermatologist will choose the best option for treatment from an arsenal that includes:

  • Liquid nitrogen spray – this means the AK is frozen and removed
  • Electrodessication and curette – this means the AK is treated with an electrical current and then removed
  • Efudex or another topical chemotherapy agent – this means the AK is treated with a medicated cream and then removed

Another common form of precancer is an atypical or dysplastic mole. These are pigmented lesions or moles that can be found anywhere on the body. Your Midwest Dermatology physician will perform a biopsy to establish the diagnosis and grade the pre-cancerous lesion as mild, moderate or severe.

While technically not a skin cancer, atypical or dysplastic moles show changes within the cells and nuclei of the mole that are not considered benign. In some cases, these moles continue to evolve and may turn into Malignant Melanoma, a dangerous and life-threatening form of skin cancer. Removing the lesion and, in serious cases, the surrounding skin, is recommended for your health and safety.

In theory, the presence of an atypical mole places a person at higher risk of developing skin cancer. Also, if atypical moles run in the family, skin cancer might occur at higher rates in those affected families. If you have a diagnosis of dysplastic moles, your Midwest Dermatology doctor will schedule regular return visits for a total body skin check.

If you have noticed a scaly, rough new growth, or a mole that just doesn’t look right, is changing or has uneven color, edges or is larger in size, you should schedule an immediate appointment for examination. Or, don’t leave it to chance – just schedule your full body skin exam today.  Call (402) 933-0800 or click here to schedule an appointment 24/7 online.


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