Actinic Keratosis and Treatment Options

What is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic Keratosis (AK), also known as Solar Keratosis, is a very common type of pre-cancer that affects more than 40-million people in the United States every year. AKs can be found any area of the body that has had long term exposure to the sun or tanning beds which is why they typically appear on the face, hands, neck, ears and scalp. While this type of skin disorder is common, if left untreated AKs could develop into squamous or basal cell carcinoma skin cancers. It is estimated that up to 10 percent of active lesions, which are redder and more tender than the rest, will take the next step and progress to Squamous Cell Carcinomas. AKs are just one of many reasons why protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is important at any age!

What to Look For

Actinic Keratosis typically form on the skin as red spots or rough, scaly or crusty patches. When appearing on or close to the lips, they could be mistaken as chapped lips. The affected skin may also appear thickened or covered in a white or yellow plaque. Some AKs can appear as less harmless skin issues such as a small pimple, age spot or irritated skin so it is important to do self-checks and to schedule a yearly skin check with a board-certified dermatologist.

Who’s at Risk for AKs?

People most at risk for AKs are those who have a history of chronic sun exposure. This includes individuals who have prolonged use of tanning beds, those with fair skin or a history of sunburns, those who work or exercise exclusively outside. Additionally, individuals over the age of 40 and those with compromised immune systems are also at risk. Even geographic location plays a role due to excessive sun exposure in some regions of the world.  

Treatment Options

Fortunately, AKs are treatable before they have a chance to become Squamous or Basal Cell Carcinomas. There are a number of treatment options that include topical agents, scraping, dermabrasion, surgical excisions, phototherapy or a combination of treatments that is personally tailored to meet your needs.

Some AKs can be treated with the use of a medium chemical peel which offers a non-surgical alternative to more traditional surgical excisions. During the process, a chemical solution such as glycolic acid or trichloroacetic acid is brushed onto the affected area of skin. The acid penetrates the first and middle layers of skin and removes the pre-cancerous tissue. Your provider will be able to determine what type of chemical peel is best for you and answer any questions you may have about recovery and after care.

Another effective, non-surgical treatment method is cryotherapy. During the process, liquid nitrogen is applied to the AK, which will cause it to blister, peel and eventually fall off to reveal new skin in its place. Typically, cryotherapy is the most common form of treatment for removing AKs as it is quick and requires little to no downtime where recovery is concerned.

Alternatively, your dermatologist may use a tool called a curet to scrape the AK away in order to treat the tissue with an electrotherapy or apply a light-sensitive chemical solution that will destroy the AK when exposed to certain light wavelengths. If you have several AKs or the affected tissues is widespread, your dermatologist may choose to put you on a topical medication as a treatment option in combination with the other mentioned treatments.

If you would like to learn more about Actinic Keratosis or if you are concerned about getting a skin check, visit our website today to schedule as appointment with one of our providers!

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Dr Pena

About The Author

Dr. Pena is a Board-Certified Medical Dermatologist, Mohs skin cancer surgeon, and cosmetic dermatologist. Her mission is to educate the diverse patient populations she serves, and their communities, on the importance of skin care in decreasing the risk of skin cancer and minimizing the early signs of aging. She founded Skin Solutions Dermatology with numerous clinics in Nashville, Tennessee and surrounding Middle Tennessee.

Dr. Julia Pena, MD

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