Is there a way to prevent skin cancer?

Nov 30, 2015

I think we all understand that skin cancer is caused by sun exposure, and that the best prevention is using sunscreen.  But what if you’ve missed the boat on that option? Every day I see patients in their 40s, 50s and older who have already been subjected to many years of sun damage. Wearing sunscreen moving forward is certainly important, but is there a way to improve some of the damage that’s already been done? Thankfully there is.

Topical retinoids may help reduce chronic sun damage. I’ve covered how to use these products in a previous post, so we’ll skip over that here. Two other options are also effective:

  1. Skin resurfacing. Skin resurfacing includes treatments such as dermabrasion, laser peels and chemical peels. These treatments remove the outer layers of the skin, which is where most of the sun-damaged cells reside.

    1. Skin resurfacing will improve fine lines and pigmentation as well as reduce the risk of skin cancer.
    2. The recovery time is only about a week, and these procedures can be done in the office.
      Cons: Skin resurfacing is usually considered cosmetic.
  2. Topical medication. Efudex (fluorouracil) is actually a chemotherapy drug used to treat cancer, which was formulated into a skin cream. It kills abnormal cells, such as those at risk of turning into skin cancer. The medication is used for a few weeks until most of the abnormal cells have been killed.

    1. Efudex will remove sun-damaged cells that are not visible to the naked eye.
      Cons: Efudex causes skin irritation, rash, and redness, which may persist for up to two months after you stop the treatment.  No makeup can be worn during the treatment period. The photo below is what a typical patient looks like during treatment.


      Side effects of Efudex. From:


If you are interested in pursuing Efudex or skin resurfacing, I would recommend seeing a board-certified Plastic Surgeon or Dermatologist in your area who has experience treating skin cancer with both of these treatment options.