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What Is Precancerous Skin Cancer

What Are The Symptoms Of Actinic Keratosis

Ask Dr K: What is the Difference Between Precancer and Cancer

Actinic keratosis develops slowly. It most likely appears on;areas of skin often exposed to the sun. These can include the face, ears, bald scalp, neck, backs of hands and forearms, and lips. It tends to lie flat against the skin of the head and neck, but appears as a bump on arms and hands. The base of an actinic keratosis may be light or dark, tan, pink, red, or a combination of these. Or it may be the same color as the skin. The scale or crust;may be;horny, dry, and rough. In some cases, it may itch or have a prickly or sore feeling.

Often, a person will have more than one actinic keratosis lesion. Actinic keratoses that develop on the lip are called actinic cheilitis.

Basic Information About Skin Cancer

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the skin, it is called skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Some people are at higher risk of skin cancer than others, but anyone can get it. The most preventable cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet light, either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds.

Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet rays. To lower your risk of getting skin cancer, you can protect your skin from UV rays from the sun and from artificial sources like tanning beds and sunlamps.While enjoying the benefits of being outdoors, people can decrease skin cancer risk by using sun protection. Protect yourself by staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying and re-applying a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher.Links with this icon indicate that you are leaving the CDC website.

Skin Color And Being Exposed To Sunlight Can Increase The Risk Of Basal Cell Carcinoma And Squamous Cell Carcinoma Of The Skin

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesnt mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.

Risk factors for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin include the following:

  • Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight over long periods of time.
  • Having a fair complexion, which includes the following:
  • Fair skin that freckles and burns easily, does not tan, or tans poorly.
  • Blue, green, or other light-colored eyes.
  • Red or blond hair.

Although having a fair complexion is a risk factor for skin cancer, people of all skin colors can get skin cancer.

  • Having a history of sunburns.
  • Having a personal or family history of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, actinic keratosis, familial dysplastic nevussyndrome, or unusual moles.
  • Having certain changes in the genes or hereditary syndromes, such as basal cell nevus syndrome, that are linked to skin cancer.
  • Having skin inflammation that has lasted for long periods of time.
  • Having a weakened immune system.
  • Being exposed to arsenic.
  • Past treatment with radiation.
  • Older age is the main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.

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    When Do Cells Become Cancerous

    The answer is that most of the time, we dont know how long it takes for precancerous cells to become cancerous. In addition, the answer certainly varies depending on the type of cell studied.

    In one study looking at 101 people with dysplasia of the vocal cords, 15 went on to develop invasive cancer .

    In 73% of these patients, their precancerous lesions became invasive cancer of the vocal cords within one year, with the remainder developing cancer years later.

    What Does Precancerous Mean

    Actinic Keratosis

    So what does this mean? Precancer means there isnt cancer there yet, but if you dont monitor or do something about it, it may develop into cancer, noted Dr. Stephanie Angela King, surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.; Basically, a precancerous lesion is a collection of cells from the bodys organs that may look and appear to be the same as cancer cells, but may not have the properties of cancer cells that allow them to break through the membranes of the organ they come from and spread to other organs. Often, precancerous lesions are not invasive and a person will not develop cancer.

    In some cases these precancerous cells, if left alone, may go on to become invasive cancer cells. Sometimes, it may take these cells a few years, or even decades to progress. In other instances, these cells may simply be a marker or indicator that the risk of developing an invasive cancer is higher.

    In the past, there has been some press about possibly reclassifying precancerous lesions as not cancer. Although the debate is ongoing about how to classify these conditions and whether or not we call them cancer, the really important issue is what to do as a patient if youve been told you have one and what you need to do about it.

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    Skin Cancer Is A Disease In Which Malignant Cells Form In The Tissues Of The Skin

    The skin is the bodys largest organ. It protects against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. Skin also helps control body temperature and stores water, fat, and vitamin D. The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis and the dermis . Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of three kinds of cells:

    • Squamous cells: Thin, flat cells that form the top layer of the epidermis.
    • Basal cells: Round cells under the squamous cells.
    • Melanocytes: Cells that make melanin and are found in the lower part of the epidermis. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its natural color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more pigment and cause the skin to darken.

    Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most common in skin that is often exposed to sunlight, such as the face, neck, and hands.

    When Is A Mole A Problem

    A mole is a benign growth of melanocytes, cells that gives skin its color. Although very few moles become cancer, abnormal or atypical moles can develop into melanoma over time. “Normal” moles can appear flat or raised or may begin flat and become raised over time. The surface is typically smooth. Moles that may have changed into skin cancer are often irregularly shaped, contain many colors, and are larger than the size of a pencil eraser. Most moles develop in youth or young adulthood. It’s unusual to acquire a mole in the adult years.

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    Side Effects Of Cryotherapy For Precancerous Skin Conditions

    Although side effects associated with cryotherapy are rare, they can be severe if not recognized and treated. If any of the side effects listed below become severe, call your doctor right away.

    • Pain – you may feel pain as the liquid nitrogen is applied to the affected skin
    • Blistering, swelling or bleeding at the affected site
    • Fainting
    • Discoloration of the skin at the affected site
    • Scar
    • Headache

    What Are The Different Types Of Skin Cancer

    DermTV – Precancer Part II: Difference Between Cancer & Precancer [DermTV.com Epi #440]

    There are different types of skin cancer, each named for the type of skin cell from which they originate. The majority of skin cancers fall into one of the following categories:

    • Basal cell carcinoma; comes from the basal cells in lowest part of the epidermis.;80-85% of skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas.
    • Squamous cell carcinoma; comes from the skin cells that make up the top layers of the skin.;About 10% of skin cancers are SCC.
    • Melanoma;comes from skin cells called melanocytes, which create pigment called melanin that gives skin its color.;5% of all skin cancers are melanoma. Although less common, melanomas are a very dangerous type of skin cancer and are the leading cause of death from skin disease.

    Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are sometimes referred to as non-melanoma skin cancer to distinguish them from melanoma.

    There are a variety of less common types of skin cancers, including;cutaneous T-cell lymphoma; and Merkel cell carcinoma.

    Skin cancer is considered low risk when the affected cells remain clustered in a single group. It is considered high risk when the cells have invaded surrounding tissues. High risk forms of cancer require more aggressive treatments.

    If skin cancer is detected before it has spread to surrounding tissues, chances of a complete cure are excellent.

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    Skin Cancer Vs Precancerous Skin Lesions: What Is Actinic Keratosis

    Actinic Keratosis is;a precancerous skin lesion noticeable by its scaly patchy appearance. This lesion in particular is caused by sun damage, primarily from harmful UV rays. Actinic Keratosis typically appears on sun exposed areas of the body like the face, hands, and arms. This lesion can recur even after it has disappeared. At times, this type of lesion can become inflamed, itch and even bleed. The main difference between a precancerous skin lesion and skin cancer is;that it is often superficial and benign and has not become actual cancer yet. The lesion is a;potential precancer and precursor to skin cancer.

    When the diagnosis of a precancerous lesion is made, there can be effective and timely treatment performed to eliminate the potential for the development of skin cancer- specifically, Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Treatments for precancerous lesions include:

    • cryotherapy

    Sun Protection Can Offer Great Benefits

    It is always helpful to protect your skin from the sun if you have precancerous skin growth. Never think that there is no point in protecting your skin from the sun, as the damage is already done. Apart from offering your body a chance to repair the skin, sun protection can also help prevent further damage to your skin.;

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    Precancerous Types Of Skin Cancer

    Some precancerous growths, often attributable to sun exposure, can lead to skin cancer over time. However, if they are recognized and removed early, you could avoid a cancer diagnosis.;These growths include:

    • Actinic keratosis: About 40-60% of squamous cell cancer cases began as actinic keratosis. Anywhere between 2-10% of these growths will develop into SCC, sometimes in as little as a couple of years. Actinic cheilitis is a type of actinic keratosis that appears on the lower lip, and is at higher risk for developing into skin cancer
    • Bowens disease: This early, noninvasive form of SCC is at high risk of becoming skin cancer if not addressed. It presents as an eczema-like scaly patch and is usually red or brown in color. These growths have been linked to sun exposure, radiation, carcinogen exposure, genetics, and trauma;
    • Leukoplakia: These white patches on the lips, tongue, and gums may be caused by alcohol and tobacco use, and can turn into squamous cell carcinoma. Cancer sites on the lips may be caused by sun damage
    • Keratoacanthoma: This dome-shaped growth is usually found on sun-exposed skin and usually grows quickly at first, then slows down. Many shrink and go away on their own, but if they continue to grow, this tumor can turn into squamous cell carcinoma. They are usually removed surgically

    What It Means If You Have Precancerous Cells

    Benign & Precancerous Lesions

    The term precancerous cells can be scary, and it’s important to note that not all precancerous cells turn into cancer. In fact, most do not. Precancerous cells are abnormal cells that are found on the continuum between normal cells and cancer cells.

    Unlike cancer cells, precancerous cells do not invade nearby tissues or spread to distant regions of the body. There are many potential causes of precancerous cells, ranging from infection to chronic inflammation.

    Many people have heard of precancerous cells of the uterine cervix that are found during Pap smears, but precancerous cells may occur in nearly any region of the bodythe bronchi, the skin, the breasts, the colon, and more.

    Verywell / Ellen Lindner

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    What Is The Difference Between Precancerous Skin Growths And Skin Cancer

    If your dermatologist told you that you have some precancerous skin growths, youre probably wondering what you should do. First, precancerous skin growths are not yet considered cancer. But they may turn into cancer at some point in the future. In both cases, some treatment may be recommended. But the treatment for skin cancer is more extensive and requires an oncologist while precancerous skin growths are usually treated by a dermatologist with recommendations for how to care for your skin to help prevent future growths. Early detection of changes on your skin is one of the most important things you can do. Lets start by understanding the differences between precancerous skin growths and skin cancer.

    Actinic Keratosis On An Arm

    This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

    Actinic keratosis, also called solar keratosis, is a precancerous skin lesion usually caused by too much sun exposure. It can also be caused by other factors such as radiation or arsenic exposure.

    If left untreated, actinic keratoses can develop into a more invasive and potentially disfiguring skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. They appear predominantly on sun-exposed;areas of the skin such as the face, neck, back of the hands and forearms, upper chest, and upper back. You can also develop keratoses along the rim of your ear.

    Actinic keratosis;is caused by cumulative skin damage from repeated exposure to;ultraviolet light, including that found in sunshine. Over the years, the genetic material in your cells may become irreparably damaged and produce these pre-cancerous lesions. The lesions, like those seen here on the arm, can later become squamous cell carcinoma, a more invasive cancer.

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    Check Your Body For Skin Cancer

    Although skin cancer can appear anywhere on your body, most develop on parts of the body that get the most sun, including areas such as:

    • Face

    Basal cell cancers may have these characteristics, according to the American Cancer Society:

    • It looks like a scar with a flat, firm, yellowish area
    • Reddish patch that may be raised or itchy
    • Shiny, pearl-colored bump that may be tinged with pink, red, blown, or even blue
    • A pink growth with raised edges but a lower center; may have blood vessels that spread out like the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
    • An open sore that doesn’t heal, or it heals and then comes back, it may bleed, ooze or develop a crusty surface.

    Squamous cell cancers may look like this:

    • Rough or scaly red patches, which can bleed or form a scaly crust
    • Raised growths or lumps
    • Open sores that don’t heal or sometimes heal and come back
    • Wart-like growths

    There Are Three Ways That Cancer Spreads In The Body

    Painful, Precancerous Skin Lesions

    Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

    • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
    • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
    • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

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    Different Types Of Cancer Start In The Skin

    Skin cancer may form in basal cells or squamous cells. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancer. They are also called nonmelanoma skin cancer. Actinic keratosis is a skin condition that sometimes becomes squamous cell carcinoma.

    Melanoma is less common than basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. It is more likely to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body.

    This summary is about basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, and actinic keratosis. See the following PDQ summaries for information on melanoma and other kinds of cancer that affect the skin:

    Tests Or Procedures That Examine The Skin Are Used To Diagnose Basal Cell Carcinoma And Squamous Cell Carcinoma Of The Skin

    The following procedures may be used:

    • Physical exam and health history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patients health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
    • Skin exam: An exam of the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.
    • Skin biopsy: All or part of the abnormal-looking growth is cut from the skin and viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. There are four main types of skin biopsies:
    • Shave biopsy: A sterile razor blade is used to shave-off the abnormal-looking growth.
    • Punch biopsy: A special instrument called a punch or a trephine is used to remove a circle of tissue from the abnormal-looking growth. Enlarge Punch biopsy. A hollow, circular scalpel is used to cut into a lesion on the skin. The instrument is turned clockwise and counterclockwise to cut down about 4 millimeters to the layer of fatty tissue below the dermis. A small sample of tissue is removed to be checked under a microscope. Skin thickness is different on different parts of the body.
    • Incisional biopsy: A scalpel is used to remove part of a growth.
    • Excisional biopsy: A scalpel is used to remove the entire growth.

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