An actinic keratosis, also known as a solar keratosis, is a common premalignant skin lesion. An actinic keratosis occurs when the cells that comprise 90 percent of the epidermis, the keratinocytes, change their size, shape or organization in a process called cutaneous dysplasia. This alters the texture of the skin surface and may extend deeper, into the dermis.
What Causes Actinic Keratosis?
Such a lesion is typically caused by chronic exposure to sunlight, particularly ultraviolet light and is therefore mainly found on areas of the body most frequently exposed to the sun. While not a skin cancer, an actinic keratosis, left untreated, may develop into a squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer capable of metastasizing and even resulting in death. Although not dangerous in itself, an actinic keratosis must always be taken seriously and examined and treated by a dermatologist.
What are the Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis?
An actinic keratosis appears as a scaly reddish or tan lesion on the epidermis, or surface layer of the skin. It may manifest as rough or scaly skin, bumps, mottled patterns, or protrusions called cutaneous horns. Actinic keratoses usually appear on the face, including the ears and lips, or on the neck, arms and hands. The lesions may range in size from a pinpoint to several centimeters in diameter and may be yellow, brown, red or violet in color, and smooth, wrinkled or furrowed in texture.
Who is at Risk to Develop Actinic Keratosis?
Fair-skinned individuals, aged 40 to 50 years of age, are more prone to actinic keratosis. Nonetheless, individuals of any age may develop these lesions, particularly in warm, sunny climates. Teenagers are often diagnosed with the condition. Actinic keratosis is also more likely to occur in individuals who spend a great deal of time in the sun, or who frequent tanning parlors.
“The staff was extremely helpful and doctor was very accommodating. Treatment was the best by far with quick diagnosis and recovery time. Would definitely recommend to anyone with any skin conditions/cancers.” – Evelyn U.
“Went into the office because it was highly recommended by friends and family. As soon as I walked in I was greeted by there friendly staff. The paperwork was done quickly and I was able to see doctor Ragi. he was extremely helpful in explaining the process that I needed done. Also throughout the time we was engage in a friendly manner to make sure I was comfortable. I would highly recommend this doctor to everyone.” – Moe Almallah
How is Actinic Keratosis Diagnosed?
A dermatologist should always be consulted about any suspicious lesion on the skin. Unless such a lesion is immediately identifiable by the physician as benign, a surgical biopsy may be performed to determine whether it is premalignant or cancerous. The biopsy procedure is small and painless and takes place in the doctor’s office. A pathology report will be available in a week or two to determine whether further treatment is necessary.
How is Actinic Keratosis Treated?
Depending on the location and severity of the lesion, an actinic keratosis may be treated in a number of ways. The patient and doctor will decide on methodology in consultation. These may include:
- Cryotherapy, or freezing
- Curettage, or scraping
- Application of cream or ointment
- Chemical peeling
- Photodynaminc therapy using laser light
How to Prevent Actinic Keratosis:
Because individuals who have had an actinic keratosis are more likely to have another lesion of this type and are also at greater risk of developing a squamous cell carcinoma, they should always opt to have full body checks with their dermatologist at regular intervals. Patients who have been treated for this condition should also avoid sunlight as much as possible. When they are exposed to the sun, they should be careful to wear adequate protection, including sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, protective sunglasses, long sleeves and long pants, whenever possible, and wide-brimmed hats. They should also, of course, avoid tanning parlors.