Actinic keratoses are precancerous skin growths caused by sun exposure over time. They often feel rough like sandpaper and can appear in any sun-exposed area, including your scalp, hands, face, ears, arms, neck and shoulders. If left untreated, a small percentage of actinic keratoses may develop into a skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Usually, a doctor can diagnose these growths during a skin exam, though occasionally a biopsy is necessary.
Frequent or intense exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds causes most actinic keratoses.
Other Risk Factors
- Age 40 or older.
- Fair complexion.
- Light-colored eyes.
- Blond or red hair.
- Tendency to freckle or sunburn.
- Contact with substances that contain coal or tar.
- History of blistering sunburns.
Note: Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get actinic keratoses, and many people who get this precancer may not have any known risk factors.
- Areas of skin that itch or burn.
- Scaly, dry, reddish patches.
- Lips that feel constantly dry.
- Limit your time in the sun and avoid the midday rays (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
- Use a generous amount of water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher.
- Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.
- Wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats whenever possible.
- Check your skin regularly for lumps, bumps or marks.
- Schedule regular skin-cancer screenings with your dermatologist.
- Cryotherapy. The most common and effective treatment option, cryotherapy involves using liquid nitrogen to destroy visible actinic keratoses. Healing after this simple procedure takes only a week or two, and afterward a small white mark may remain.
- Electrodesiccation and Curettage. This option carefully removes actinic keratoses with an instrument referred to as a curette. After this process, your dermatologist may take extra measures to remove damaged tissue. New, healthy skin gradually appears.
- Topical Chemotherapy. Topical chemotherapy is applied to the affected areas of the skin. This may cause temporary redness, crusting or swelling until the healthy skin surfaces.
- Topical Immunotherapy. Topical immunotherapy consists of a cream which treats actinic keratoses by boosting your body’s immune system to shed the diseased skin cells. Usually, it is applied at home for several weeks at a time. Temporary redness and swelling are possible.
- Chemical Peeling. This in-office, noninvasive procedure involves exfoliating the top layer of skin.
Monthly skin-cancer self-examinations are important precautionary measures, but nothing can replace a complete skin exam by your doctor. The medical professionals at Pensacola Dermatology can diagnose any skin-related issues, including squamous cell carcinoma. Schedule an appointment with Pensacola Dermatology so we can address your individual needs.
Actinic Keratosis | American Academy of Dermatology. 2018. Aad.Org. Accessed December 28 2018. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/scaly-skin/actinic-keratosis.