By Casey Watkins, MD
Actinic Keratosis (AK), also known as a solar keratosis, is a skin lesion that can cause the texture of the affected area to feel scaly and rough. These lesions are a sign of extensive sun damage and are considered precancerous. AKs are caused by damage to the skin by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or indoor tanning. People with red or blond hair, fair skin, and green or blue eyes are at highest risk for developing AKs. If you have a history of sunburns, this can increase your risk of developing AKs. Patients with immunosuppression, like those undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplantation, are also at a higher risk for developing these lesions. As a pre-cancerous condition, AKs may evolve into invasive squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated.
Actinic Keratoses most often appear on the face, ears, bald scalp, chest, forearms or any area that has been exposed to the sun frequently. The appearance of an AK may differ from person to person. Sometimes this condition is not noticed right away, because the lesion may be the same color as the skin in the surrounding area. They are frequently so small, in the beginning, that they are recognized more by touch. AKs often feel rough, scaly, or “dry” and may feel like you are running your finger over sandpaper. They can become red but can also be different colors of tan, pink, or a combination of all these colors. AKs can appear, continue for months, flake off, and then reappear later. If you notice a new area on your skin that has any of the following symptoms, contact your dermatologist right away:
• Scaly, dry, or rough patch of skin that can have a sand-paper like texture, usually less than 1 cm in diameter
• Flat to slightly elevated patch or bump on sun-exposed skin that may be flesh-colored, red, brown, or pink
• Tenderness, burning, bleeding, or itching in the affected area
There are several treatment methods that are available and effective. A better alternative to treatment is prevention. Protecting your skin from the sun can help minimize the chance of AKs forming. It is important to avoid exposure to sunlight during peak hours (10am to 3pm). Wear clothing that covers arms and legs and a wide-brimmed hat that will protect the ears and back of neck. Choose a sunscreen labeled “broad-spectrum” with SPF 30 or higher, and reapply sunscreen every two hours when outdoors – even when it is cloudy outside.
Patients who develop actinic keratoses are advised to have a dermatologist examine them annually. The reason for these regular checkups is to make sure that new lesions have not developed and that no lesions have progressed to skin cancer.
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Actinic keratosis. (2015, December 07). Retrieved March 07, 2016, from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/scaly-skin/actinic-keratosis
Skin Cancer Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 07, 2016, from http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/actinic-keratosis/what-is-actinic-keratosis