A form of keratosis that is considered precancerous is actinic keratosis. This means that if left untreated, it has a high risk of evolving into cancer. Also known as solar keratosis and senile keratosis, it is most common among fair skinned people and those who are frequently exposed to the sun. Also vulnerable are people who take immunosuppressive drugs, i.e. those taken by organ transplant patients. When the skin is exposed to the sun constantly, thick, scaly or crusty bumps appear. The affected area is usually dry and rough to the touch. The growths which occur often start out as flat and scaly, evolving into a tough and wart-like area. The warts are usually 2 – 6mm in sized and in appearance are dark or light, tan, pink or red.
So, how do you tell the difference between skin cancer and actinic keratosis? How do you know when it has evolved into skin cancer? This skin condition often leads to a form of cancer known as squamous cell cancer. This develops when the cells in the skin begin to change. Risks for contracting this disease include having light-colored skin, blue or green eyes, or blond or red hair, persistent sun exposure, severe sunburns, persons over the age of fifty, exposure to a large number of x-rays, consumption of arsenic and exposure to chemicals. The symptoms for squamous cell cancer include a growing bump that may have a rough, scaly surface. These bumps can often be found on the face, ears, neck, hands or arms. Note, sores that do not heal are often a sign of squamous cell cancer, so pay attention to changes in warts, moles or the lesions which occur in actinic keratosis.
There are both preventative measures and treatments that can be used to combat actinic keratosis. For prevention:
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of or greater than 30
- Wear clothing that will cover the face, the arms and the legs (long sleeved shirts, long pants, sunglasses and hats)
- Avoid sun exposure between 10:00am and 4:00pm, these being the times when the sun is at its zenith and heat its most intense.
There are a variety of treatments that are known to work where actinic keratosis is concerned. They include: cryosurgery which utilises liquid nitrogen to freeze off the blemishes; medicated creams; photodynamic therapy, a process which involves the use of LED light laser therapy in combination with chemicals and electrocautery which involves burning off the wart-like lesions using electricity.
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