Actinic Keratosis

Home / Cancer Prevention / Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis

What is an Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratosis (AK) are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer.  It is  characterized by rough, reddish, pre-cancerous lesions that appear on sun-exposed areas of the body.  These lesions can be located on areas of the skin that are most exposed to the sun.  An actinic keratosis develops from long term sun exposure and usually first appears after age 40.  It may be treated with cryosurgery, curettage, dermabrasion, laser therapy, topical chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, or chemical peeling.  Extensive treatment may be required if actinic keratosis progresses to more advanced stages.  Proper use of sunscreen can help prevent actinic keratosis even after extensive sun damage has already occurred.


What does an Actinic Keratosis look like?

Actinic keratosis can be characterized by a rough, dry, scaly patch of skin located on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun.  It can also appear as a flat or slightly raised bump that varies in color and size.  Some symptoms may include an itching or burning sensation.  Occasionally, an actinic keratosis disappears without treatment, but will return at the same place.  An actinic keratosis will return if it is simply picked or scratched off, therefore treatment is necessary to remove it completely.


Treatment of Actinic Keratosis

The basic types of treatment for actinic keratosis are cryosurgery, surgical removal, biopsy, topical chemotherapy, and photodynamic therapy.  Other surgical options that have been used include chemical peels and laser skin resurfacing.


Cryosurgery – Applying or spraying liquid nitrogen onto the skin to freeze and destroy the tissue.  As the skin heals, the lesions slough off, allowing new skin to appear.  Repeated cryotherapy treatments may be necessary.


Surgical Excision – After numbing the area with local anesthesia, a dermatologist uses a scalpel to remove the entire growth along with a surrounding border of normal skin as a safety margin.  The skin around the surgical site is then closed with a number of stitches, and the excised tissue is sent to the laboratory for microscopic examination to verify that all the malignant cells have been removed.   


Biopsy – Removing a piece of the skin for examination under the microscope for a diagnosis.


Topical Chemotherapy – A topical anti-cancer drug is mixed with ointment or lotion and applied to the skin to destroy precancerous growths and some cancerous lesions.


Photodynamic Therapy – A chemical is applied to the skin and is then exposed to a special light source that will activate the chemical in order to destroy the actinic keratosis.


Chemical Peeling – Excess oils are removed from the skin using a cleanser, and the dermatologist then applies a chemical solution to various areas of the skin.  Eventually, the layers of the skin will separate causing it to peel over a period of time.  This allows the skin to healthily rejuvenate.  Patients may experience a warm to hot sensation that lasts five to ten minutes during the procedure.  Depending on how deep the peel is, the procedure may be more painful and may require medication during or after the treatment.


Laser Skin Resurfacing – A laser is used to destroy the outer layer of skin at specific depths and heats the underlying skin using powerful light waves.  As the wound heals, new skin forms.  It is important to consult with your Dermatologist concerning timeframes for the  healing process utilizing this procedure. .


After treatment is performed, the new skin that forms must be protected from the sun by using sunscreen and other sun protection methods.

Recent Posts