How to Treat Precancerous Sun Damage to Skin

woman applying lotion to her leg
Woman applying lotion to her leg. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

The American Cancer Society states that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. Most skin cancers are caused by excessive exposure to the sun's UV rays. Avoiding sun exposure, checking the skin regularly for abnormal changes and treating precancerous skin lesions, such as actinic keratosis, can help prevent skin cancer from developing.

Actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin condition that usually appears as flesh or pink-colored rough spots on the ears, face, hands, and other sun-exposed areas of the skin. Actinic keratosis affects an estimated 10 million Americans, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Step 1

Use the topical chemotherapy medication, 5-fluorouracil, to destroy sun-damaged areas of skin. In most cases, 5-fluorouracil requires application twice daily for six weeks. Side effects may be severe and include redness, pain, inflammation and photosensitivity.

Step 2

Treat sun damaged skin with a chemical peel or a fluorhydroxyacid peel. Chemical peels use acid to burn the top layer of skin, which causes damaged skin to peel away. New, healthy skin can then grow in its place. A fluorhydroxyacid peel combines the benefits of a chemical peel with a treatment of 5-fluorouracil. DERMAdoctor states that this type of peel may need to be repeated as many as 12 times.

Step 3

Try a topical cream, such as imiquimod, to treat multiple actinic keratosis lesions caused by sun damage. Imiquimod works by stimulating the immune system to fight abnormal skin cells. Other medications work by directly attacking the precancerous cells. Soloraze Gel is a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication approved to treat actinic keratosis.

Step 4

Undergo cryosurgery to remove actinic keratosis lesions. Cryosurgery involves the application of liquid nitrogen to the abnormal skin lesion. The liquid nitrogen freezes the cells, causing them to slough off. This procedure requires no anesthesia and is typically performed on an outpatient basis, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

Step 5

Treat precancerous lesions by having them cut away. Two simple procedures, curettage and shave removal, can effectively remove lesions with minimal bleeding or side effects. Once removed, the lesion can be sent for biopsy. This method of treating precancerous sun damage is rarely used when multiple lesions or areas of skin abnormality are present.

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