Actinic Keratosis (AKs) are skin lesions characterized by a scaly texture often described as the same texture as sandpaper. They can develop anywhere on the body, most commonly on the face, ears, upper arms, backs of the hands, neck and shoulders and may begin as tiny lesions of skin that can go unnoticed.
Actinic keratosis is the result of sun damage, and while it’s usually not cancerous, it is considered the warning sign of squamous cell carcinoma.
Actinic keratosis can be hard to see and therefore is recognized by touch. The patches are rough, scaly and develop slowly. They can eventually become an inch wide in size. The lesions usually turn red, but can also be pink, dark or light tan or a combination of the colors.
Is Actinic Keratosis Harmful?
Actinic Keratosis is often regarded as the first warning sign of skin cancer because it indicates significant damage to the skin caused by sun exposure, which is why it’s crucial to have actinic keratosis examined by a medical professional.
To protect against the development of actinic keratosis, always wear sunscreen, avoid tanning and schedule regular skin examinations.
Treatment for Actinic Keratoses
There are multiple methods of treating actinic keratoses. A medical professional may suggest topical medications or dermatologic procedures such as photodynamic therapy, cryosurgery, curettage, chemical peels or laser surgery, depending on your specific condition.
Topical Medications treat lesions which are widespread with minimal scarring. Ointments are available in different strengths and for various skin types. It is best to consult a medical professional before choosing and applying topical medications to the area.
Photodynamic Therapy is a specialized form of treatment specifically for actinic keratoses. A light-sensitizing agent is applied to the skin and then activated by strong red or blue light. The light destroys the cells which form actinic keratoses. This process causes sensitivity to sunlight, which patients must avoid for 48 hours, and may cause swelling or soreness of the skin.
Cryosurgery can be an effective method of removal. This procedure freezes the growth with liquid nitrogen.
Curettage is a method which involves scraping the cells which form the seborrheic keratosis off of the skin with a special instrument.
Chemical Peels are a form of treatment which peels away the fine, outer layer of the skin. It is an exfoliation process that, once healed, reveals a fresh, radiant complexion. A specialist may apply local anesthesia for this process which has proven very effective for removing actinic keratoses.
Laser Surgery allows a medically-trained specialist to control how many layers of skin are treated with a carbon dioxide or erbium YAG laser. This method is consulted only after topical ointments have not worked on the actinic keratosis.
While actinic keratoses are not directly harmful to the skin, as many as 10 percent of cases may advance to squamous cell carcinoma. To seek consultation and treatment for actinic keratosis, consult the dermatology specialists at the Skin & Cancer Center of Scottsdale at (480) 596-1110.