Actinic keratosis is a skin lesion. It looks like rough or scaly skin in a small patch. It is small and most often develops on skin that has had lots of ultraviolet damage – whether from the sun, tanning bed, etc. It may look bumpy and wart-like and be of various colors including pink, red, tan or brown. It sometimes burns or itches.
Actinic Keratosis shows up where the sun exposure has been heavy – places like face, ears, lips, hands, forearms, scalp, and neck. Sometimes it is called “solar keratosis” because of the sun connection. The condition develops slowly from episodic solar radiation over time and therefore often occurs in older adults. In some cases, actinic keratosis can evolve into skin cancers.
At Dermatology Associates, we offer a number of dermatology services to help you get and maintain your best skin. We understand the importance of monitoring the skin and the changes that can occur due to overexposure to the sun. Our medical staff can help with diagnosing, treating and preventing a number of dermatology concerns – especially those that can lead to skin cancer. If you have any skin concerns, contact Dermatology Associates today. We have three Massachusetts locations for your convenience.
The cause of actinic keratosis is ultraviolet radiation, over-exposure to sunlight, which causes changes in the DNA of skin cells and underlies actinic keratosis and skin cancers. Several physical features have been associated with greater incidence of actinic keratosis. Lighter skin; blue or green eyes; blond or red hair; history of organ transplant or immune compromised system; history of lots of outdoor work; and many sunburns as a youth — all these are risk factors for development.
If you have a new spot and its changing, start by making an appointment with a dermatologist to check that spot out. It could be something other than actinic keratosis. Some spots resolve without intervention, but sometimes actual removal is the route to take to rule out a future cancer developing.
Several surface treatment strategies are in common use: Cryotherapy (freezing the skin lesion) kills the spot. Curettage (scraping the damaged skin) may remove the spot, but electrosurgery may be required to completely destroy whatever actinic keratosis is left after scraping.
Medication may be used as part of another intervention. For example, a photosensitizing agent may be applied to the damaged skin. Intense laser light may then be applied to the medicated area. The laser light is absorbed because of the medication and destroys the actinic keratosis.
The best advice we can offer is taking preventative measures. Stay out of the heavy UV rays, which means no sun exposure in midday. It is not too late to be protective since UV damage is additive. The more UV rays you can eliminate, the less your total dosage and the less your exposure risk for actinic keratosis. Cover up your skin when you are out in the sun. Don’t forget to use high-quality sunscreens (SPF of 15 or greater). And always avoid sun lamps and tanning beds or salons.