Could a laser like the IPL spead a skin cancer?

Can IPL cause skin cancer to spread? I recently saw the LPN who performs IPL at my dermatologist’s office; she has been doing the procedure for 8 ½ years and would be using a Lumenis One. During the consul, when the Mohs surgery that I had last fall for basal cell skin cancer came up, she said that she had just read that people with a history of skin cancer may not be good candidates for IPL because, 1) IPL could ‘stir up and spread’ any cancer underneath the surface and 2) IPL could remove symptoms of skin cancer such as brown spots, allowing the cancer to grow undetected. She left the room to discuss the article with the doctor and upon returning said that the doctor told her it was nothing to worry about - that it was just the company trying to protect itself. However, besides the basal cell skin cancer that I had removed last fall, I am currently using Fluorouracil cream to treat a flaky area that is probably squamous cell carcinoma. As far as I know, I have no other skin cancer, but let’s say I do - do you believe IPL could possibly spread the cancer or could remove symptoms of skin cancer that would allow it to grow without being detected?

Wow –  she really misled you on this one.  In fact, it’s the reverse, assuming you are under the care of dermatologist medically already. 

Any laser that helps to remove and/or repair sun damaged skin has a beneficial effect on precancers  (actinic keratoses) in the skin.  As for actual skin cancers, we always insist that patients have these treated first (medical always before aesthetic!), but there would be a neutral effect if, by accident, one was lasered over.  In other words, the skin cancer would not be made worse or better by the laser.  It would still need surgery or red light.

There is a signifcant amount of data that resurfacing lasers, like the Fraxel and CO2 lasers,  help to improve precancerous skin conditions and sun damage.  An IPL doesn’t penetrate the skin so it doesn’t improve sun damage as much, but it won’t make anything worse.  Next to your doctor’s medical treatment, the most important things are consistent sunscreen use and a vitamin A cream (retinoid) to help with preventiona and repair.

In my opinion, another good reason that lasers should not be done in spas by aestheticians or “technicians”  because they have no medical training or medical supervision.  (I know yours was done in your doctor’s office.)  More on sun damage.


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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