Actinic Keratoses

Actinic keratosis, or AKs, refer to patches of sun-exposed skin that are scaly or dry. They can form on the hands or forearms as well as the face and scalp. AKs can also form on the lips; this condition is called actinic cheilitis and causes cracked, dry skin along the borders of the lip. One lesion can form by itself, called actinic or solar keratosis, or many may form together as AKs. Because they are dry and scaly, actinic keratoses can sometimes become itchy and rough. Increased exposure to the sun can also render them sensitive or tender. These red-brown or skin colored lesions may go undetected due to their color and size (ranging from almost undetectable to quarter size or larger).

Relation to Skin Cancer

Actinic keratoses can lead to skin cancer if undetected or left untreated. There is a relation between actinic keratosis and sun exposure, which increases the likelihood of developing skin cancers like melanoma. In addition, approximately half of all cases of squamous cell carcinoma originated from AKs that were not treated or recognized. This makes it vital that any worrisome dry or scaly patches of skin be examined by a dermatologist, who will carefully analyze the skin and determine the correct form of treatment. If identified early on, actinic keratoses can be effectively treated so as to prevent skin cancer.

Risk Indicators for Actinic Keratoses

As with many types of skin conditions, having light colored skin, light hair, and freckles will make you more likely to develop actinic keratoses. Additional risk factors include chronic sun exposure, increased age (typically over 40 years for both men and women), and weak immune systems caused by illness, medications, or chemotherapy. Those who find themselves in one of these groups should be on the watch for AKs, visiting a dermatologist regularly or self-examining their skin.

Treatments for Actinic Keratoses

As with other skin conditions, treatments for AKs vary according to genetics and other factors. Your dermatologist will examine the actinic keratosis or keratoses and then determine treatment based on previous treatment results, the amount of actinic keratoses you have and their sizes and location, your medical history and age, and of course, your preferences regarding treatment. The dermatologist may or may not also recommend getting a biopsy of the skin, carefully examining the AKs with a microscope to determine that they are not currently cancerous.