Actinic keratosis (AK) is one of the most common skin conditions that prompts patients to seek care of their dermatologists. AKs are a type of skin damage caused by excessive exposure to UV light from the sun. AKs present as rough and scaly, sometimes raised, growths on the skin. These lesions are most commonly found on the head and neck but can occur anywhere that one has had a lot of sun exposure. Most AKs are asymptomatic and are identified by patients based on the textural change of the skin. On the lips, AKs present as white scaly patches, associated with an occasional itching or burning sensation. It is important to get these treated as untreated AKs can develop into squamous cell carcinomas, a type of skin cancer. As such, AKs are commonly regarded as precancerous lesions.
Causes of Actinic Keratosis
As is the case with skin cancers, certain populations are at greater risk of developing AKs. AKs are most common in people who have fair skin and hair, freckles, sunburn easily, and spend prolonged amounts of time outside. Medications or genetic conditions that weaken the immune system and/or place individuals at higher risk for skin damage from solar UV rays can also increase the risk for AKs.
Treatment of Actinic Keratosis
Most AKs are very easily diagnosed clinically and can be treated via multiple effective and affordable modalities. The treatment is aimed at preventing progression of AK into skin cancer, and generally falls into two categories: spot treatment vs field treatment.
Regardless of the treatment used, it is extremely important to use sunscreen regularly and take care of your healing skin after treatment until the damaged skin is replaced by newer, healthier skin. Freshly treated skin is especially sensitive to sun and negligence can cause excessive pain, blistering or even bleeding.