Cryosurgery is one the more common treatments of actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis occurs because abnormal cells form on the epidermis, i.e. the top layer of the skin. It usually develops on areas of the skin which are constantly exposed to the sun, such as the face, scalp, ears, arms and hands. The actinic form of the condition often occurs in people with fair skin who have spent a large amount of time in the sun earlier in their lives, who are 45 and older. Actinic keratosis is a premalignant condition, meaning, if the affected areas are not closely examined by a dermatologist and immediately treated, persons run a significant risk of developing skin cancer.
Actinic keratosis has no standard appearance. It can look round or oval or simply appear as an irregular patch. It can start of small in size (a few millimeters) and then grow to about 1-2 centimeters. The legions are usually reddish in colour, thick, scaly or crusty and rough to the touch.
Can it be prevented? There are precautions that can be taken. Sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or greater should be worn whenever one is going out. Staying out of the sun between the hours of 11:00am and 3:00pm is advised as ultra violet radiation is considered strongest at these times. Wearing protective clothing such as broad-brimmed hats, long-sleeved blouses and long pants is also advisable.
There are a variety of treatments available for actinic keratosis:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Medicated creams and lotions
- L.E.D. light therapy also known as photodynamic therapy which involves a combination of chemicals and L.E.D. blue lights
- Electrocautery which involves burning off the wart-like lesions caused by actinic keratosis
- Traditional surgery which involves using a scalpel to slice off the lesions
As was stated in the beginning, cryosurgery is the most common treatment for actinic keratosis. It involves the use of liquid nitrogen which is applied to the affected surface using either a cotton tip or some sort of spraying device. Liquid nitrogen which is extremely cold (-300°F) and works by constricting the blood vessels of the lesions. The result is that the blood flow to the site slows depriving the cells of the necessary nutrients, including oxygen. This leads to the death of the cells (called necrosis) and the lesion are sloughed off resulting, after healing in smoother better looking skin.
There are distinct advantages in using cryosurgery to treat actinic keratosis; it is highly effective, rarely leaving scars; it is a quick procedure with a relatively short healing time; it only requires one or two visits to the doctor and is considered relatively inexpensive. As with any procedure, always weigh the pros and cons along with extensive consultations before making a decision.