An actinic keratosis, also known as a solar keratosis, is a common premalignant skin lesion. Actinic keratoses (AK) are scaly, crusty growths (lesions) caused by damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. They typically appear on sun-exposed areas such as the face, neck, arms, ears, bald scalp, lips, and the back of the hands, and are often elevated, rough in texture, and may become red, but some will be tan, pink, and/or flesh-toned. If left untreated, AKs may develop into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common form of skin cancer. People with a fair complexion, blond or red hair, and light eyes have a high likelihood of developing AKs if they spend time in the sun and live long enough.
What causes an Actinic Keratosis?
Such a lesion is typically caused by chronic exposure to sunlight, particularly ultraviolet light and is therefore mainly found on areas of the body most frequently exposed to the sun. While not a skin cancer, an actinic keratosis, left untreated, may develop into an squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer capable of metastasizing and even resulting in death. Although not dangerous in itself, an actinic keratosis must always be taken seriously and examined and treated by a dermatologist.
Diagnosis of an Actinic Keratosis
A dermatologist should always be consulted about any suspicious lesion on the skin. In some instances, a surgical biopsy may be performed to determine whether it is premalignant or cancerous. The biopsy procedure is small, relatively painless and takes place in the doctor’s office. A pathology report will be available in a week or two to determine whether further treatment is necessary.
Treatment of an Actinic Keratosis
Depending on the location and severity of the lesion, an actinic keratosis may be treated in a number of ways including cryotherapy, or freezing, application of cream or Photodynaminc therapy using a blue light.
Prevention of Actinic Keratosis
Because individuals who have had an actinic keratosis are more likely to have another lesion of this type and are also at greater risk of developing a squamous cell carcinoma, they should always opt to have full body checks with their dermatologist at regular intervals. Patients who have been treated for this condition should also avoid sunlight as much as possible. When they are exposed to the sun, they should be careful to wear adequate protection, including sunblock containing zinc or with an SPF of 50 or higher, protective sunglasses, long sleeves and long pants whenever possible, and wide-brimmed hats. They should also, of course, avoid tanning beds.