Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis can be the first step in the development of skin cancer, and therefore, is a precursor or a pre-cancer.


  • The best way to prevent Actinic Keratosis is to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend in the sun. Avoid the peak hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Seek the shade.
  • Cover up with protective clothing, including a broad-rimmed hat.
  • Wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF 15) or greater.
  • Avoid tanning parlors and artificial tanning devices.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens can be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Teach your children good sun-protective practices.
  • Perform regular skin self-examination and consult a physician if you see or feel a suspicious area.

You surely have seen Actinic Keratosis. The name may be unfamiliar, but the appearance is commonplace. Anyone who spends time in the sun runs a high risk of developing one or more. Actinic Keratosis is also known as solar keratosis.

It is a scaly or crusty bump that arises on the skin's surface. The base may be light or dark, tan, ink, red, or a combination of these… or the same color as your skin. The scale or crust is horny, dry and rough, and is often recognized by touch rather than sight. Occasionally it itches or produces a pricking or tender sensation.

The skin abnormality or lesion develops slowly to reach a size that is most often from an eighth to a quarter of an inch. It may disappear only to reappear later. You will often see several Actinic Keratoses at a time.

A keratosis is most likely to appear on the face, ears an, bald scalp, neck, backs of hands and forearms, and lips. It tends to lie flat against the skin of the head and neck and be elevated on arms and hands.

actinic keratosis, solar keratosistreating actinic keratosis


What Causes Actinic Keratosis:

Sun exposure is the cause of almost all actinic keratoses. Sun damage to the skin accumulates over time, so that even a brief exposure adds to the lifetime total. The likelihood of developing keratoses is highest in regions close to the equator. However, regardless of climate, everyone is exposed to the sun. Ultraviolet rays bounce off sand, snow and other reflective surfaces; about 80 percent can pass through clouds.

Some Facts About Actinic Keratosis

  • People who have fair skin, blonde or red hair are more likely to develop Actinic Keratosis. Individuals who are immunosuppressed as a result of cancer chemotherapy, AIDS, or organ transpiration, are also at a higher risk.
  • 1 in 6 people will develop Actinic Keratosis in the course of a lifetime.
  • Some experts believe that the majority of people who live to the age of 80 have keratoses.

Treating Actinic Keratosis

Not all keratoses need to be removed. The decision for removal is based on several factors including: age, the nature of the lesion and your health. But the following are methods that can be used to treat Actinic Keratosis.

  • Curettage and Electrodesiccation: most commonly used treatment. The physician scrapes the lesion and takes a biopsy specimen to be tested for malignancy. Bleeding is controlled electrocautery-heat produced by an electric needle.
  • Shave Removal: utilizes a scalpel to shave the keratosis and obtain a specimen for testing. The base of the lesion is destroyed, and the bleeding is stopped by cauterization.
  • Cryosurgery: freezes off the lesions thought application of liquid nitrogen with a special spray device or cotton-tipped applicator. It does not require anesthesia and produces no bleeding, but white spots sometimes result.
  • Dermabrasion: removes the upper layers of the skin by sanding or using a fine wire brush operating at 20-25,000 revolutions per minute. Redness and soreness usually disappear after a few days.
  • Topical Medications: two medicated creams are effective in removing keratoses particularly when lesions are numerous. The medication is applied by the patient twice daily, with progress checked by a physician.
  • Chemical Peeling: makes use of trichloroacetic acid or phenol applied while the patient is under light sedation. The top layers of the skin slough off and are usually replaced within seven days by growth of new epidermis.
  • Laser Surgery: focuses the beam from a carbon dioxide laser onto the lesion. This treatment is rarely used, but can be effective, particularly for keratoses on the lips.
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