Actinic Keratosis – The Common Precancer You Should Know About

Person with actinic keratosis on their arm.

Actinic Keratosis – The Common Precancer You Should Know About

Do you often experience small patches of rough, dry skin that feels like sandpaper, which just doesn’t go away no matter what type of moisturizer you use? Though actinic keratosis is usually harmless, it might be worth visiting your dermatologist for a thorough skin exam to rule out this skin condition. 

With over 58 million people developing this condition, actinic keratosis is the most common type of precancer and it often shows up on the skin as dry, scaly lesions, or crusty patches. 

If you’ve noticed one or more spots like this on your skin, keep reading to find out everything you should know about actinic keratosis. 

 

All About Actinic Keratosis


In the following paragraphs, we’ll cover what you need to know about this precancerous condition, such as what it is, what it looks like, where it typically shows up on the body, and how to best treat actinic keratosis. 

 

What is Actinic Keratosis? 


Actinic keratosis, also known as
solar keratosis, is the most common form of precancer caused by sun damage. Generally caused by frequent or excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays over the course of multiple years, actinic keratosis is usually harmless. 

That said, there is a small risk of it turning into skin cancer, which is why we always recommend visiting an experienced dermatologist for treatment. 

 

What Does Actinic Keratosis Look Like? 


Actinic keratosis shows up as small, scaly spots or dry, crusty patches on the skin. In most cases, it is easier to feel, rather than see, as the skin is usually raised and has a rough texture. 

Here’s a quick guideline on how to spot actinic keratosis: 

      1. Texture: rough, crusty, scaly texture that can be flat or raised. 
      2. Skin Color: ranging from normal to red or pink pigmented. 
      3. Size: this varies, as it can be a small spot (pencil eraser sized) or a larger (quarter-sized) patch. 

 

Where Does Actinic Keratosis Typically Show Up? 


As this common condition is
caused by UV rays, actinic keratosis most often shows up in places on the body that are repeatedly exposed to the sun, such as: 

      • Face
      • Lips
      • Ears
      • Scalp
      • Shoulders
      • Neck 
      • Back of the hands
      • Forearms

 
Though these are the most common spots AK appears, keep in mind it can show up anywhere on the skin, such as the legs, back, and upper arms (especially in those who engage in frequent sunbathing). 

 

Who is at Risk of Developing Actinic Keratosis? 


People who tend to not tan easily and have fair to light skin with blue/green eyes, as well as blonde/red hair, typically have a higher risk of developing actinic keratosis. This is because their skin has less protective pigment, which makes them more susceptible to sunburn and skin damage. 

In most cases, it takes years of harsh sun exposure to develop actinic keratosis and thus, older people above the age of 50 are most affected by this condition. 

 

How is Actinic Keratosis Diagnosed? 


With actinic keratosis being one of the most common skin conditions dermatologists diagnose and treat on a regular basis, it’s usually pretty easy for a doctor to spot. However, this isn’t always the case. Thus, a dermatologist will sometimes require a biopsy to correctly diagnose the condition. 

 

What is the Best Actinic Keratosis Treatment? 


Treatment of actinic keratosis depends on a few things, which your dermatologist will take into account, such as: 

      1. How many actinic keratosis spots you have. 
      2. Where these spots are located. 
      3. The severity of the AK. 
      4. Whether or not you’ve previously had skin cancer. 
      5. And any other medical conditions you may have. 

 
Once those factors are considered, there are multiple different options for treating actinic keratosis. Fortunately, AK is a relatively easy skin condition to diagnose and treat, with many cases being taken care of in just 1 or 2 office visits. 

The most common treatments doctors use for actinic keratosis include: 

        • Freezing the Area — Otherwise known as cryotherapy or cryosurgery, this is an effective treatment for AK in which the area is sprayed with an extremely cold substance, such as liquid nitrogen, to destroy the tissue. The skin then blisters and peels off, revealing new, healthy-looking skin underneath.

       

        • Medical-Grade Chemical Peel — A dermatologist will apply a chemical to the top layer of skin, causing it to peel and regrow into healthy skin.

       

        • Topical Treatments — Gels, creams, and topical solutions are effective for patients with widespread AK. Topicals are applied directly to the skin to treat affected areas and leave minimal scarring.

       

        • Photodynamic Therapy — This treatment is best used on patients with recurring, widespread AK. Photodynamic therapy involves using a light-sensitizing topical agent followed by a blue or red light to kill cancer cells. 

 

Think You Have Actinic Keratosis? Make an Appointment. 


If you think you might have actinic keratosis, make an appointment with an experienced dermatologist who can accurately diagnose the condition and recommend the best possible treatment for your unique situation. The sooner actinic keratosis is found, the sooner it can be treated and your risk of skin cancer development diminished. 

 

At the Center for Surgical Dermatology, our team of professional dermatologists and doctors are leaders in all things skincare. From skin cancer diagnosis and treatment to prevention and more, you can trust our team will help you navigate your skin health journey. If you have questions about your skin, call (614) 847-4100 to schedule an appointment today. 

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