Actinic keratosis (AK) are precancerous dry, rough scaly patches of skin caused by years of overexposure to the sun or tanning beds usually not seen until after 40 years of age. AKs can be seen in younger people who live in climates with year round sun.
Left untreated AKs can form cutaneous horns or develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer. For this reason, it is important to seek diagnosis and actinic keratosis treatment from your doctor or dermatologist. With the proper treatment, actinic keratoses can be removed and the conditioned cured.
Self-examination is an important component in working with your doctor for a timely diagnosis of actinic keratosis. Look for any changes to existing moles or freckles as well as the appearance of any new ones. AKs usually have a diameter of 2-6 millimeters with a crusty or hard texture and may be red in color. AKs can also feel sore when exposed to sun or touched. Report any of these symptoms or changes to your doctor immediately. Self-examination is not a good substitute for seeing your doctor. Other conditions or keratoses exist that are not precancerous AKs but can be mistaken as such without a proper assessment.
Typically, a doctor can diagnose actinic keratosis with an examination in his office. A skin biopsy is another test that may be performed. A biopsy consists of your doctor, using a local anesthetic, taking a small sample of your skin to be submitted for lab analysis.
Actinic Keratosis Treatment
Given that even with biopsies and lab analysis, it is currently impossible to predict which AKs will actually become skin cancer, actinic keratoses are removed with follow up treatment as a precautionary measure. Treatment options vary based on the patient’s history with AKs. While there are advantages and side effects to each of them, actinic keratoses generally respond quite well to treatment.
• Topical creams or medications
• Chemical peels
• Cryotherapy (freezing)
• Cutterage or scraping
• Laser removal
Routine follow–up visits and examinations with your doctor should be expected. Preventative care after diagnosis and treatment continues to remain very important.
Limited time in the sun and, use of sunscreen and cover-ups, and avoidance of tanning beds are all steps to continue. Previous diagnosis of actinic keratosis can be an indicator for future cases. It is particularly important to continue regular and vigilant self–examinations and communication with your doctor at the first sign of any changes in your skin.