What is Actinic Keratosis?
An Actinic Keratosis (AK) is a tiny, rough blemish that occurs on the skin due to exposure to the chronic sun's rays. Actinic Keratoses appear on skin that's photo-damaged. Actinic Keratosis is also known as Solar Keratosis. Concentrated types of the precancerous lesion Actinic Keratoses include Actinic Cheilitis, a roughness and scaling of the lower lip and darkening of the lip border and neighboring skin, and Cutaneous Horns, where the skin sticks out in a broad, horn-like manner. The other causes of Cutaneous Horns are age spots, also referred to as Seborrheic Keratoses and warts.
Signs and symptoms of Actinic Keratosis
Actinic Keratoses usually range between 2-6 mm in size. They are reddish, plus a rough texture and most often they have a yellowish or white scale on top. When touched, you can feel a prickling pain in most cases.
Who is at risk of getting Actinic Keratosis?
Most of those people who develop the precancerous lesion Actinic Keratoses are more likely to be fair-skinned who spend most of their time outdoors, either working or playing or those who expose their skin to indoor radiation. The skin of these people often becomes mottled, thinned, and wrinkled from sun exposure. Other people at the risk of getting Actinic Keratoses are those who have suppressed immune systems, such as patients with Psoriasis and have been treated using PUVA therapy, as well as patients with organ transplants.
Where Actinic Keratosis occurs
The common places for Actinic Keratoses are the upper chest, cheeks, edge of the ears, bridge of the nose, scalp, back of the neck, forearms, and the top of the hands. Most men develop AKs on the rim of the ears, but the hairstyles of women protect this region.
Effects of Actinic Keratosis
Actinic Keratoses are known to be precancerous, meaning that they can later progress into persistent skin cancer. Even if the chances of Actinic Keratosis developing into an invasive cell carcinoma is less than 1%, most of the patients with these lesions who continually expose their skin to ultraviolet sunlight are more likely to get invasive skin cancers. Skin cancers are destructive, and they have a relatively small, but real potential of spreading to other regions. When treated at an early stage, one can prevent Actinic Keratoses developing into invasive skin cancer. Most of the patients say that they don't go out in the sun when they get diagnosed with this condition. The explanation for this is that these Keratoses can delay or even take decades to develop. However, when you expose yourself to the sun for short periods doesn't mean that you will either get Actinic Keratoses or make them develop into skin cancers.
Treatments for Actinic Keratoses
Most physicians or dermatologists are in a position to diagnose and take care of Actinic Keratosis. In case the lesion is thick or large, a biopsy may be recommended to ensure that the spot does not develop into skin cancer. The treatments for Actinic Keratoses include:
- Cryosurgery: Where the spots are frozen using liquid nitrogen.
- 5-fluorouracil (5-FU): Creams that cause AKs to become inflamed and reddish before they fall off.
- Imiquimod: An immune stimulator with similar effects as 5-FU.
- Ingenol Mebutate: It assists in the treatment of small spots, but has significant irritation.
- Superficial chemical peels with trichloracetic acid (TCA) are also effective.
- Photodynamic therapy.
- Other types of surgery like scrapping away or burning off the AKs.
Patients with Actinic Keratoses are usually advised to have annual doctor examinations to ensure that the old lesions are not growing thicker and new ones are not developing. Furthermore, avoiding the sun is the easiest way to prevent Actinic Keratoses.
For more information about Actinic Keratoses and other medical treatments, contact us, and we will schedule an appointment for you. By seeing our dermatologist in Miami for check-ups, Actinic Keratoses are treatable before they develop into skin cancer. If it develops into skin cancer, we can catch it early, and treatment can cure skin cancer.