Also known as solar keratosis, actinic keratosis affects more than 10 million Americans. These precancerous growths on the skin are caused by overexposure to the sun over a long period of time. They are characterized by rough dry lesions or patches that appear on sun-exposed areas of the skin, such as the face, back of hands, arms, scalp or shoulders. The lesions may be red, pink, gray, brown or skin colored. Lesions often begin as flat, scaly areas and develop into a rough-textured surface. Sometimes it is easier to feel a growth than it is to see it.
Actinic keratosis is more common among fair-skinned people and those who have had years of outdoor or tanning bed exposure to ultraviolet light. Actinic keratosis can develop into malignant cells, typically squamous cell carcinoma, which is a type of skin cancer. That's why treatment is so important. After a physical examination and evaluation of the lesion, your dermatologist may opt for one of the following treatments to remove the growth:
- Cryosurgery, which freezes off the growth using liquid nitrogen.
- Surgical removal in which the doctor scrapes off the lesion and bleeding is stopped by electrocautery or chemical cautery.
- Chemical peels that cause the top layer of skin to peel off.
- Photodynamic therapy in which a chemical is applied that sensitizes the skin to light and the area is then exposed to light via a laser or other light source.
- Topical Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) that cause a slow inflammation and peeling; used in more superficial cases.
- Topical Chemotherapeutic agents (5-Fluorouracil, imiquimod, ingenol mebutate) can also be used.