Skin cancer is one of the most common cancer types in the United States, with estimates showing that new diagnosis is greater than those of other forms combined. Although many people would hardly think of it to help, evidence suggests that a popular laser for anti-aging treatment may help against this disorder.
It is not usual for cosmetic and medical treatments to have something in common. This will certainly make it surprising for some to learn that Fraxel, a laser that many people will know more for its anti-aging uses, can help to fight cancer.
Researchers found in a 2013 study reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) that Fraxel or fractionated laser was a promising new treatment for skin cancer. This was based on impressive results from treatment of people with actinic keratoses (AKs).
That research has most likely contributed to increasing interest in Fraxel for treatment of people with pre-cancerous cells and early skin cancers.
Actinic keratosis and treatments
Actinic keratoses are common pre-cancers that usually result from sun damage to the skin. They show up as rough patches of skin that look scaly with red and/or white color. If they are not promptly dealt with, these pre-cancers can easily evolve into squamous cell carcinomas, a type of skin cancers.
Years of exposure to the sun and its ultraviolet rays cause damage to the exposed parts. This explains why these rough patches typically develop in areas such as the scalp, face, arms and ears.
Actinic keratosis is believed to be the most prevalent pre-cancerous skin condition. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, it affects roughly some 58 million people in America.
Regular treatments for AKs include topical therapies, freezing and surgery. However, these aren’t without issues. They may make the skin red or crusty for weeks, cause pigmentary changes, or result in scarring.
Fraxel treatment offers certain advantages over these traditional treatments. The laser does not only help to fight actinic keratosis and so prevent cancer, but also reverses or improves sun damage to the skin.
Fraxel laser works by delivering microscopic rays of laser energy into the dermis of the skin. This causes destruction of worn-out, unhealthy skin cells, including pre-cancers and early skin cancers. The body then attempts to replace these with new, healthy ones.
The microscopic injury the laser causes stimulates a healing process. This promotes a fresher looking skin, reduces wrinkles and boost collagen production.
The use of the nonablative laser in the JAAD study resulted in great satisfaction level among those treated. There was more than 86 percent reduction in the number of lesions on the face.
Another thing that makes this treatment increasingly popular, compared to alternatives, is that it results in minimal down time. Patients only experience around four days of redness. In addition, it doesn’t take more than about 15 minutes to complete in most cases.
But all Fraxel lasers are not equal in terms of their efficacy for fighting skin cancers.
“Fraxel Thulium is the one that can effectively treat actinic keratosis, because it focuses especially on sun damage in the top layers of the epidermis where squamous cell carcinomas start,” Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a celebrity cosmetic surgeon, told Shape. “Other Fraxels work on other layers of the skin, like the dermis.”
This again underlines the importance of using a good broad-spectrum sunscreen every day.
In spite of its potential usefulness, most insurers still will not cover Fraxel treatment for skin cancers. They consider it an anti aging cosmetic treatment.