Actinic Keratosis FAQs
What is actinic keratosis? »
Actinic keratosis is a pre-cancerous skin lesion on the skin. They are usually rough, scaly patches that form on the areas that receive extensive sun exposure: the face, lips, ears, backs of the hands, forearms, scalp, or neck. These growths develop slowly and don’t have any signs or symptoms other than their appearance. A small percentage of actinic keratoses can eventually become skin cancer.
What are the symptoms of actinic keratoses? »
These growths are not painful and are not overly disfiguring because they remain small. These are the signs:
- Rough, scaly, dry patch of skin
- Usually less than 1 inch in diameter
- Flat to slightly raised patch or bump atop the skin
- Sometimes can be hard and wart-like
- Color may be pink, red, or brown
- May itch or burn when brushed
What causes actinic keratoses to form? »
Actinic keratoses develop as the skin’s response to frequent or intense exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds.
There are certain risk factors that make a person more likely to develop an actinic keratosis:
- You are over age 40
- Live in a sunny locale
- Have a history of sunburns
- Have red or blond hair
- Have blue or light-colored eyes
- Tend to freckle or burn when exposed to sunlight
- Have a personal history of actinic keratosis or skin cancer
- Have a weak immune system due to chemotherapy, AIDS, or other causes
How are actinic keratoses treated? »
Because actinic keratoses may develop into cancer, it’s a good idea to remove them as a precaution. Here are the typical methods:
These medications have been developed over the past decade or so. They cause the body to react and attack the abnormal actinic growths. These creams and gels cause inflammation and redness and then the actinic keratoses begin to crust and peel off. These are prescription drugs that are usually applied to the entire affected area:
- Fluorouracil cream
- Imiquimod cream
- Ingenol mebutate gel
- Diclofenac gel
- Cryotherapy — Actinic keratoses can be removed by freezing the growth with liquid nitrogen. This causes the lesion to crust and peel off. This takes just a few minutes.
- Curettage — A small scoop-shaped blade, known as a curet, is used to scrape off the damaged cells. Using the curet may complete the procedure, or we may also use electrosurgery, where electric current destroys the affect tissue and closes off the blood vessels.
- Photodynamic therapy — In this method, a light-sensitive chemical is first applied to the affected skin. Then a special light is directed onto the area. This destroys the actinic keratoses.
What is the cure rate for actinic keratosis? »
Removing these growths before they become skin cancer is 100 percent successful. Other growths may develop, but they can be removed the same way.