Can certain laser treatments reduce or eliminate skin cancer risks?

Dear Dr Irwin, Thank you for offering this very enlightening service, it is very helpful. I've seen too many older people with cancer breaking out on their faces and the solution leaving awful scars. Since I am a very fair skinned person who grew up in sunny California and Hawaii, does the C02 laser eliminate most sub-cancer cells ?

Lasers that actually remove old cells and allow new fresh undamaged cells to grow in CAN reduce skin cancer risks for NON-melanoma skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.

Carbon Dioxide Lasers (CO2) – fractionated or fully ablative (the older ones)

There is a lot of science now published (you can find it on PubMed) that the Carbon Dioxide Laser (CO2) in particular has a beneficial anti-skin cancer (not for melanoma) effect. It also helps to reduce the precancerous cells in your skin. Why? Because it’s a little like aerating your lawn only on a microscopic level. The tiny, micron sized beams go down vertically into your skin, where the damaged skin is then removed by your body’s wound healing. Then fresh collagen and cells move in and replace the area that was targeted by the laser.

With each treatment, about 15-20% of the old cells are pushed out and new cells grow in. Theoretically, you’d replace approximately 90% of your skin after 5 treatments. With the older non-fractionated lasers you could replace more skin with each treatment but the healing process was very difficult and much more risky for scars and infections.

Fraxel Lasers – fractionated

This is confusing because the Fraxel Repair is a CO2 laser and belongs with the above. The Fraxel Restore is the one most commonly used and is an Erbium laser coupled with a second laser (a thullium). This laser doesn’t go quite as deep and has somewhat less downtime depending on the settings and number of passes used. This laser has also been shown to reduce risks for precancerous lesions and skin cancers.

Bottom Line on Laser Treatments for Cancer:

  • The CO2 laser and the Fraxel CO2 and Erbium laser have been shown, with multiple treatments, to reduce precancerous lesions and help prevent skin cancers. This does NOT include melanoma –  just basal cell and squamous cell which are the two most common types.
  • IPL/photorejuvenation  –  These are NOT known at this time to have this effect
  • Hair or tattoo removal lasers –  No
  • Radiofrequency devices like Thermage, Thermismooth and Exilis  –  NOT known to have this effect

Hope this helps,  Dr. I

Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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