Lasering Pre-Cancerous Skin Lesions

Lentigo maligna can be treated with carbon dioxide laser ablation

(RxWiki News) If you've been a sun worshipper, visiting your dermatologist to have regular skin cancer screenings should be part of your preventative health maintenance. A new procedure has been shown to be effective in treating suspicious spots before they become cancerous.

Laser removal of precancerous skin lesions called lentigo maligna may be an effective new treatment when surgery and radiation therapy aren't feasible.

A common precancerous lesion, lentigo maligna (LM) is most often seen in older individuals who have a history of recurring sun damage. It usually shows up on the head or neck. These lesions can turn into LM melanoma (LMM), and of course melanoma is the most severe and deadly form of skin cancer.

"Visit your dermatologist for skin cancer screenings."

Haemi Lee, M.D. led a team of researchers at the University of Western Ontario, which reviewed the cases of 73 patients aged 39-93 diagnosed with and treated for lentigo maligna in London, Ontario between July 2, 1991 and June 29, 2010.

The researchers examined how patients fared after receiving surgery to remove the lesions, radiation therapy and carbon dioxide laser ablation (removal), which works by vaporizing cells that contain water.

Patients who had surgery were followed for just over 16.6 months; 46.3 months for radiotherapy, and 77.8 months for laser ablation.

Here's what researchers learned about recurrence rates:

  • 4.2 percent for surgical removal
  • 29 percent for radiation therapy
  • 6.7 percent for carbon dioxide laser ablation.

While the results showed a trend towards lower recurrence rates with surgery and carbon dioxide laser ablation, the results were not considered statistically significant.

Surgery remains the gold standard for treating LM and LMM, but this isn't always feasible for lesions appearing on the head and neck, the authors report.  In these cases, carbon dioxide laser ablation may be a good alternative because it's effective in treating "large lesions in cosmetically sensitive regions of the head and neck in a short period, with minimal morbidity,” the authors conclude.

This retrospective case review is published in the November/December, 2011 issue of the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Review Date: 
November 21, 2011