Actinic keratoses

Actinic keratoses are rough, scaly patches of skin that result from ultraviolet light exposure. If not treated, they can develop into skin cancer, so you should have us examine these lesions and, most likely, remove them.


Ugly. Precancerous. This is why you need sun protection.

Conditions and Causes

PRECANCEROUS PATCHES OF SKIN Actinic keratoses, also known as solar keratoses, may be flat or slightly raised patches or bumps with a dry, scaly or wart-like surface. The color varies from flesh to pink, red, or brown. They appear wherever sun exposure is common: the face, lips, ears, scalp, neck, shoulders, forearms, or backs of your hands. The skin around them may be itchy, raw, and sensitive, or even red and inflamed. On the lips, actinic keratoses are often characterized by chapping, cracks, and a whitish discoloration. For every actinic keratosis you can see, you could have as many as 10 more that are not yet visible.

The more you have been exposed to ultraviolet light through the sun, sun lamps, or tanning beds the more likely you are to develop actinic keratoses. The damage is cumulative.

  • You are also at a higher risk if you:
  • Are over 40 years old
  • Have fair skin, red or blonde hair, and light-colored eyes
  • Have had frequent or intense exposure to the sun
  • Tend to freckle or burn
  • Have a history or family history of actinic keratoses or skin cancer
  • Have a weakened immune system

The Treatment

On occasion, an actinic keratosis will disappear on its own, but it will return when the skin is exposed to the sun again. If you scratch a lesion off, it will grow back.

If treated early enough, an actinic keratosis can be removed before it becomes cancerous. Otherwise, it may develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a serious skin cancer that can grow into surrounding tissues and even spread to other parts of your body. Left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can be deadly.

You should see us for treatment immediately if you have a suspicious lesion that:

  • Hurts, burns, itches, oozes, or bleeds
  • Becomes scaly or crusty
  • Changes rapidly in size, shape, or color

Any of these could be a sign of skin cancer. If necessary, we will take a small sample of your skin and analyze it in our in-house lab. If the sample tests positive, we can treat you for skin cancer.

If skin cancer is not a concern with your actinic keratoses, we can remove them in one of several ways:

  • Topical medications Different medications work in different ways. Some destroy the actinic keratoses by blocking essential cellular functions. Others fight the lesions with anti-inflammatory drugs. Still others stimulate your immune system to reject the precancerous cells.
  • Cryosurgery Applying liquid nitrogen to the skin's surface causes it to blister and peel. The lesions slough off as the skin heals.
  • Photodynamic Therapy With Photodynamic Therapy we apply a light-sensitizing substance to your actinic keratoses, then use an intense light to destroy the damaged cells.
  • Laser treatment An extremely precise laser vaporizes the lesions and the damaged skin surrounding them.

Each procedure has its own advantages, risks, and potential side effects. We will discuss them with you in depth to determine the best approach. Following treatment you should examine your skin thoroughly at least once a month and schedule regular follow-up visits for a professional examination.


Prevention

Your best option is to prevent getting actinic keratoses in the first place. After having your lesions treated, however, you should be especially vigilant about responsible protection and early detection.

Annual cancer screening Have us perform a professional, full-body skin cancer screening at least once a year. We will discover and discuss any new actinic keratoses at this time. Make your appointment now.

Monthly self-exams Examine your skin at least once a month. If you see a new growth or one that is changing rapidly, itching, or bleeding, call us immediately.

Sun safety Protect your skin from the sun:

  • Stay out of the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Apply broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Do not burn, tan, or use tanning booths.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months.

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