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What Are Precancerous Lesions?

Precancerous lesions are commonly found on the ear.
Chemotherapy may be necessary to treat precancerous lesions.
A man with precancerous skin lesions.
Raised skin mole.
Atypical moles are a type of precancerous lesion.
One method of lesion removal includes using a scalpel.
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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2014
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Precancerous lesions are areas on the skin that display abnormally rapid cell growth. They may be visible on the surface of the skin, or inside the genital organs, typically the vagina. Though these lesions aren't technically considered cancerous yet, doctors generally feel that they have the potential to develop into cancer. Identifying and treating lesions before they develop into full-blown cancer is considered crucial to cancer prevention. Doctors have not yet developed a way to accurately determine which ones will develop into cancer, so they usually advise removal of all precancerous lesions for the sake of safety.

Many types of skin cancer can begin with precancerous skin growths. Actinic keratosis is generally considered a common type of precancerous lesion, one that may develop into squamous cell carcinoma, an often aggressive form of skin cancer. These lesions most often occur with exposure to UV rays, and they are usually flaky and red in appearance. They're found most often on the upper body, face, scalp, and ears.

Atypical moles are another type of precancerous lesion. These moles may have uneven borders, and often grow rapidly. They may be asymmetrical in shape, and they are usually multi-colored. These moles are believed capable of developing into malignant melanoma. Most dermatologists remove them for biopsy purposes right away.

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The cutaneous horn is another lesion that generally develops in older people, and it looks like a small, bony protrusion. There may often be a cancerous tumor below this protrusion.

Vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN) is a type of precancerous lesion that generally occurs in the skin of the vaginal wall. Doctors believe there is a strong chance that these could develop into vaginal cancer. These lesions are usually found during a routine pelvic examination. There are generally considered to be three distinct stages of VAIN, with the third stage sometimes being classified as very early stage vaginal cancer.

Treatment for precancerous lesions generally involves their removal, and often, their biopsy. Actinic keratosis is often removed cryogenically, by freezing the lesions off of the skin with a liquid nitrogen solution. Atypical moles are often surgically excised with a scalpel. VAIN lesions are often removed with electrical currents, in a procedure known as loop electrosurgical excision, or by laser therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used to treat some precancerous lesions, especially those that are considered very likely to develop into cancer.

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sunshined
Post 11

What is the difference between moles and warts? Is there a possibility that warts can be precancerous lesions?

I keep getting warts that show up in the strangest places, and I have a hard time getting rid of them. I just hope there isn't a chance these could turn in to cancer.

Some of them are in places where my clothing covers them, but when they show up on my hands, I am embarrassed by them.

LisaLou
Post 10

I am always suspicious of moles and tend to watch them very closely to see if there are any changes. I have several moles on my body, and have had many of them removed for cosmetic reasons.

My dad had a mole on the back of his neck for as long as I can remember. Because of the location of this mole, it was hard for him to see if it looked suspicious.

He finally got tired of worrying about it and made an appointment to have it removed. I am glad he didn't put it off any longer. When they sent this mole in for a biopsy, it came back as cancerous.

We were all surprised by this because this mole was not multi-colored, and had not changed in size for a long time. This was not a fast growing type of cancer so he has not had to have any other treatments except for follow-up appointments.

Mykol
Post 9

Even with precancerous lesions, there is quite a bit of follow up that needs to be done - at least there was with my husband.

He had an upper respiratory infection and went in to get it checked out. The doctor saw a suspicious spot on his chest, and referred him to a dermatologist.

It is a good thing this doctor knew what the signs of skin cancer were, because this lesion turned out to be a type of skin cancer.

He works outside all year long, so I would not have been surprised if this lesion had been on his arms or face. He always wears a shirt when he is working, so it was strange this lesion appeared on his chest.

After it was removed, he had to go back for several follow-up appointments for at least two years.

golf07
Post 8

@StarJo - I really dread that annual female exam too, but still make my yearly appointment. I am glad I did not slack off on that.

At my last exam, when my gynecologist did my pelvic exam, she discovered some precancerous lesions. It was imperative they remove them as soon as possible, so that was much more important than my worrying about surgery.

It really wasn't as bad as I thought it might be, and she used laser therapy to get rid of them. Thankfully these were caught early enough that I didn't have to go through any other treatment.

Ever since then, I don't put off scheduling my annual exam. It is much easier to take care of something when you catch it early than to try and do something once it has progressed.

discographer
Post 7

@ddljohn-- Yea, I'm using one right now, the drug name for it is imiquimod. There is also another one called fluorouracil. These are both used to treat precancerous lesions and also in the treatment of skin cancer like basal cell skin cancer.

I actually had several lesions frozen off before. But they came back so I wanted to try something different and my doctor prescribed this topical cream. I think it's working, although it's a little too early to know. The lesions are not growing which is good. The only bad side of the topical creams is that I'm even more sensitive to the sun than I was before.

ddljohn
Post 6

Is it possible to get rid of precancerous lesions with topical creams?

We have a summer house that we go to every year. One of our neighbors there and my mom's close friend suddenly developed these dark raised lesions on her face last year. They were spreading all over her face. She never did tell us what they were. I can't tell either because I've never seen pictures of skin cancer or precancerous lesions. But her doctor didn't allow her to go out into the sun anymore. She also used topical creams for a long time and started using really strong sunblock creams.

The lesions did disappear though and it's like she never had them. But it was so scary to see her like that and ever since then, I don't step out of our house without sunblock on. This neighbor used to sunbathe excessively though. She is not light skinned, but she would lay out on the beach from morning till evening everyday in the summer.

ysmina
Post 5

@Oceana, @seag47-- I do agree with you both. But I think our generation is going too far with sun protection and sunscreen. A safe amount of sun exposure is healthy and we need sunlight to produce vitamin D. Sunlight is also proven to improve our mood and protect us against depression.

And not every skin lesion is cancerous. I have a lot of small black moles on my body and new ones appear all the time. I also spend time out in the sun every summer. My doctor was worried at first and suspected precancerous lesions. However the biopsy showed that they are benign lesions. I even learned the name for them- it's called spitz nevus.

I think we need to wear sunblock and keep away from sun rays in the summer during 11am-4pm to protect ourselves from precancerous skin lesions. But during other hours of the day, and during the winter, we need some sunlight to remain healthy.

wavy58
Post 4

My cousin had some strange looking atypical moles. One mole was brown, pink, and blue. The blue made me think of mold, and it just seemed so unnatural that it should be growing on her back.

She refused to have it removed, and it turned into skin cancer. Even after it started to bleed, she would not see a doctor about it.

The only reason she discovered she had skin cancer was because she got into a car wreck and got knocked unconscious. While the doctor was examining her in the emergency room, he found the mole.

Ignoring the skin cancer symptoms cost her everything. She died a couple of years ago, and I believe if she had gotten the mole removed as soon as she noticed it, she would be here today.

seag47
Post 3

@Oceana – I know what it is like to have pale skin and be more vulnerable to the sun than most folks. It seems that no matter how much time I spend in the sun, I only get a light tan, and I get more freckles and suspicious moles than anything else.

I had an atypical mole surgically removed from my face a few years ago. It was more like a slightly raised, rough freckle right in front of my ear. It was growing rather quickly, and it had an uneven border.

The surgeon simply numbed the area and cut it off with a scalpel while making small talk with me. I could hear the slicing sound, and it was so weird, because I couldn't feel a thing.

He sent it off to be tested, and it turned out to be benign. I do think it's best to have all types of precancerous lesions removed, just in case.

Oceana
Post 2

My dad has actinic keratosis, and he is having the lesions removed a few at a time. The dermatologist recommended that they do it this way, since they are covering a large portion of his body.

When he was young, sunscreen was uncommon, if it even was available in his area. So, when he grew up, he wasn't used to putting it on, and he spent many hours gardening out in the sun with no protection, simply because he didn't think of it.

He has had multiple sunburns in his life. It didn't help that he is naturally fair-skinned.

He is going back next week to have some more lesions frozen off. It's a simple outpatient procedure that may save his life.

StarJo
Post 1

I can't imagine having precancerous lesions in the vagina. Removing those must cause some pain afterward!

I dread even my yearly gynecological exam, and all the doctor does is insert a scope and look around. I would probably have major anxiety attacks if I knew I had to have lesions removed.

Surely, the doctor must put the patient under anesthesia first. There's no way a person could handle being awake for that. I know that even if they numbed the area, they would have to put me to sleep so that I could handle it mentally.

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