Scaly, crusty growths we collect on our skin as we get older may be pre-cancers, better known in dermatology as actinic keratoses (AKs). If left untreated, they could lead to squamous cell carcinoma – the second most common form of skin cancer. You will usually see actinic keratoses on skin constanty exposed to sun such as face, ears, neck, lips, bald scalps, and backs of hands.
Traditionally, AKs are treated individually with an extremely cold liquid called liquid nitrogen that freezes the crusts quickly and immediately. This is called cryotherapy and results in AKs falling off the skin a few weeks after treatment.
A new study in JAMA Dermatology suggests that light therapy may prove to be a better solution. Reviewed research reports showed patients who underwent light therapy were 14% more likely to have the lesion cleared three months later, compared to patients who had liquid nitrogen.
Another name for light therapy is photodynamic therapy, and this involves applying light-sensitive medication to an entire area of your skin, after which a special light activates the medication, killing the AK cells. Because these lights are expensive and most often not covered by insurance, researchers believe it will not replace other available treatments.
When should you consider light therapy for the treatment of your AKs? If you have multiple AKs(20-30) covering your face or your hands or your scalp, photodynamic therapy is a great option. Although both cryotherapy and photodynamic therapy are painful, light therapy treats an entire area at once, whereas liquid nitrogen treats single lesions.
Source: Daniel Eisen, M.D., Harvey Lui, M.D., Jeffrey Salomon, M.D. Aug. 27, 2014, JAMA Dermatology, online