Actinic Keratosis

These dry, scaly patches or spots are precancerous growths.

  • People who get AKs usually have fair skin.
  • Most people see their first AKs after 40 years of age because AKs tend to develop after years of sun exposure.
  • AKs usually form on the skin that gets lots of sun exposure, such as the head, neck, hands, and forearms.
  • Because an AK can progress to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), treatment is important.

What is Actinic Keratosis and How Do We Treat It?
Actinic Keratosis (AKs) is a precancerous skin growth that may progress to skin cancer. The growths begin as small, scaly or crusty patches on the skin’s surface. Actinic keratoses are most commonly found on areas that are heavily exposed to the sun such as the face, ears, scalp, neck, upper back and chest, backs of hands and forearms. They usually appear red but their colors can range from light or dark tan, appear pink or a combination of these. Occasionally it itches or produces a pricking or tender sensation. Some Actinic Keratoses naturally disappear only to reappear later. Often you will see several Actinic Keratoses at a time.  Chronic sun damage can lead what is known as Actinic Keratosis–pre-cancerous lesions on the body. While not always cancerous, these lesions can become cancerous, and should always be treated as a significant warning sign.

What causes it?
While anyone can develop Actinic Keratosis, fair-skinned people under chronic sun exposure are particularly susceptible. Certain parts of the body are also more likely to be affected, such as face, ears, scalp, shoulders, and upper arms. These areas are more often exposed to the sun, and increase the risk for developing Actinic Keratosis. This skin disease is most common in people in their forties.

Who Gets Actinic Keratosis and How?
Actinic Keratoses are directly related to past sun (ultraviolet) exposure. People who have lighter complexions, blonde or red hair, blue, green or gray eyes are at the greatest risk. Those with darker complexions can develop keratoses if they expose themselves to the sun without protection. If left untreated, some AKs may increase in size and pose a significant risk of developing into a form of skin cancer.

How Do We Recognize Actinic Keratosis?
The appearance of small lesions (squamous cell carcinomas) should be closely monitored by a dermatologist in order to quickly and effectively recognize and remove skin cancer. Contact your Tri-State dermatologist, Dr. Amy Vaughan Dermatology, for more information for treatment options .

What can be done?
There are a number of effective treatments for eradicating Actinic Keratoses. Dr. Vaughan and her staff will determine the best treatment method for you based on the nature of the lesion, your age and your health. These include topical agents and liquid nitrogen. The Levulan® Photodynamic Therapy System is a non-surgical procedure for the treatment of Actinic Keratoses. It is an advanced system that combines the application of a unique solution to the skin lesions and exposing the treated areas to a specialized blue light or IPL device to destroy the AKs.