Actinic Keratosis (AK), also known as Solar Keratosis, is a precancerous lesion of the epidermis (outer layer of skin) that is caused by long-term exposure to sunlight. One in six people will develop an AK in their lifetime. AKs are not life threatening as long as they are diagnosed and treated in the early stages. If left untreated, aggressive AKs have the potential to progress into Squamous Cell Carcinoma, a serious type of skin cancer. Patients with multiple AKs have a lifetime risk of progression to Squamous Cell Carcinoma of 5% to 9%.
Leading Causes of Development
- People who have fair skin, light-colored hair and eyes are at the greatest risk of developing AKs.
- Individuals who are immunosuppressed, either by cancer chemotherapy treatments or organ transplants, and who have an immunodeficiency disorder, are also considered high risk for developing AKs.
- Cumulative sun exposure increases with age, older people are more likely to develop AKs.
Signs of Indication
- Chronic sunlight exposure alters the karatinocytes (cells that make up the majority of the epidermis) and causes areas of your skin to become scaly, rough, discolored, and sometimes tender to the touch.
- AKs are most commonly found on sun-exposed areas such as the face, lips, ears, neck, scalp, forearms, and backs of hands.
After diagnosis, physician recommendation for therapy is based on the location and size of the lesion, and the amount of AKs you have developed. Your age and general health will also be taken into consideration.
- Cryosurgery (freezing lesion with liquid nitrogen)
- Topical Chemotherapy Creams
- Photodynamic Therapy
- Chemical Peels
- Laser Resurfacing Therapy
How You Can Protect Yourself
Because chronic overexposure to sunlight is the leading cause of Actinic Keratosis, sun avoidance is an important preventative measure to help reduce the risk of developing this precancerous lesion.
- Limit skin exposure to UV rays by wearing sunglasses, broad-brimmed hats, and protective tightly woven clothing
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF-15 or higher) on all exposed skin including lips, even apply on cloudy days. Reapply sunscreen frequently.
- Avoid tanning parlors and artificial tanning devices.
Inspect your entire body regularly for any skin changes, especially those already mentioned, and routinely visit your dermatologist for a skin examination.