What is actinic keratosis?
Actinic keratosis, also called solar or senile keratosis, is a precancerous skin condition that develops in sun-exposed skin, especially on the face, hands, forearms, and the neck. It is seen most often in pale-skinned, fair-haired, light-eyed people, beginning at age 30 or 40 and becoming more common with age.
What are the symptoms?
Actinic keratoses are small and noticeable red, brown, or skin-colored patches that don't go away. They commonly occur on the head, neck, or hands but can be found on other areas of the body. Usually more than one is present. They may have a rough texture, itch, burn, or sting and they range in size from 1 to 3 mm or larger (about the size of a small pea). They might also be numerous, with several patches close together and be surrounded by red, irritated skin.
How is it treated?
Early treatment of actinic keratosis is recommended to stop the possible progression to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Treatment may include:
- Freezing the skin growth with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy) to destroy it
- Scraping and using electric current (curettage and electrosurgery)
- Fluorouracil (5-FU), a medication that you put directly on the keratoses
- Imiquimod cream (Aldara), a medication that has recently been approved for treating actinic keratosis
- Photodynamic therapy, the use of a photosensitizer topically and a blue light has been recently approved for the treatment of actinic keratosis and some types of superficial skin cancer, it is also used in the treatment of photorejuvenation
Will actinic keratosis progress to cancer?
If you have actinic keratosis, you may have an increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. There is no way to determine whether actinic keratosis will progress to squamous cell carcinoma or how fast this might occur. Keratoses on the ear and lip are at the highest risk of developing into cancer because of the sensitivity of the ear and lip to sun exposure.
How can I prevent actinic keratosis?
You can help prevent actinic keratosis by staying out of the sun and using sunscreen when you are in the sun. You should also examine your skin for the condition and other suspicious growths once a month, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun.